In February 2016, an Uber driver killed six and wounded two in the in areas surrounding Western Michigan University’s campus. At the time, students on or off campus were unaware of shootings and were not alerted until after the shootings occurred. This sparked outrage from students and parents who were concerned with the lack of warning and protection they had.
Originally, some took issue that the alerts for WMU students only included on campus threats and the Uber shootings had been off campus.
Since then, WMU and the WMU Police Department have made an effort to update and increase the alert system’s reach.
“What did we put out is what we call an advisory notification to people in the instances that we know about it,” sergeant for the WMU Police Department Matt Page said.
“We would use the Twitter fast follow feature to put out these advisory notifications. Then (for the) people who didn’t have a Twitter account, there was still a method of using that fast follow feature so a parent or a student that's not on Twitter could send a text message to Twitter asking to be notified by text message. Whenever WMU Public Safety puts out a tweet. So that was the method we were using.”
Until recently, the WMU Police Department used Twitter and the Fast Follow tool to send out advisory notifications. Twitter has since removed that feature so the department began to look for a new way of sending these advisory notifications.
“We kind of had to scramble a little bit to make sure that we could still put out these, what we call advisory notifications, which are either emergencies off campus or if something occurs on campus that's not a life threatening emergency,” Page said.
After updating the system, students can now opt in to receive alerts for potential threats both on and off campus. The new alerts will be sent to anyone with a WMU email, and students can opt in for text or phone alerts as well.
“The students and employees can go in and select if they want text or voice, but also if they want to add the advisory notifications on,” Page said. “So they can choose to receive just on campus emergency alerts or they can choose to receive on campus emergency alerts and advisory notifications as well.”
The notifications will automatically be sent unless a student chooses to opt out of receiving them. Students can opt out or adjust their preferences using the GoWMU portal under personal information.
“If you wanted to change it to just get on campus emergencies, you can go into your preference portion of the portal and you can change it back from receiving both types of alerts and notifications to just emergency loops,” Page said. “What we're now doing is saving that information in a university database so that if we change vendors, if we decided next year to use a different company to send out mass notification alerts, we have all the emergency phone numbers of students and employees that have given us and their preferences saved in the university database.”
The new advisory notifications will include all potentially life threatening events.
“The thing with all of these, including the on campus ones is if there is an ongoing threat, so we're not just going to send it out like a newsletter with the suspect is in custody,” Page said.
Along with the updates in the alerts for students at WMU, there is now an option for parents or students visiting campus for an extended period of time to opt into these notifications.
“We get calls every year from parents or people coming on campus to go to the conferences or camps or there's some kids coming here for like a high school math camp over the summer and their parents want to be notified if something's going on,” Page said. “We used to not have any ability to add them to give alerts or notifications, but now we added an additional feature for parents and visitors that come onto campus where they can text a phone number to WMU Public Safety and then they will receive a text alert whenever we put out an on campus emergency alert or an advisory notification.”
The WMU Police Department is looking into more ways to alert students and give them proper warning during emergency situations.
“We've been looking at adding in these options for alerts to be sent out to digital signage on campus,” Page said. “As well as, one thing that I'm actually kind of excited about, would be a desktop notification for all the university computers. So if somebody has their phone silenced maybe in class or in a computer lab or something like that, they wouldn't get their text message or phone call right away. But if they're on a university computer, a desktop notification will pop up on their screen.”
The Department of Public Safety and the WMU Police Department are looking to do whatever they can to ensure the safety of those on and off campus.
“I just know that we're continually working to try to add more more methods for notification to try and make sure that if there's a major emergency on campus that everybody knows about,” Page said. “We want every student and employee on campus to be safe and to be notified when events are when there is an ongoing threat or emergency on campus. So they can make the best decision possible for themselves and it gives them the opportunity to make a decision on what they want to do or if they want to even come to campus.We want everybody to be safe on campus.”
For more information on the WMU Alerts, go to https://wmich.edu/news/2018/10/49624 or contact the Department of Public Safety at WMU.