Warning system updates continue with siren test

Nathalie Tadena

The Daily Northwestern

Weinberg sophomore Richard Murphy woke up on Tuesday morning to the sound of a loud, pre-recorded message.

“It was loud enough to wake me up – and I’m a pretty heavy sleeper,” Murphy said.

The 10 a.m. alarm test was one part of Northwestern’s new emergency notification system that has been put in place over the past year.

Plans to update NU’s emergency plan had been in the works prior to last April’s shooting at Virginia Tech and February’s shooting at Northern Illinois University, which occurred only about 70 miles from Evanston.

The tragedies made the university’s security improvements even more timely and necessary, said Al Cubbage, vice president for university relations.

“There has been a significant investment on the part of the university in improving our emergency preparation and our emergency response capabilities,” he said.

To supplement its emergency communications procedures, an outdoor alarm system was installed on NU’s Evanston campus last week. Roof-mounted speakers at four different campus locations can project siren sounds and voice messages to inform individuals who are close to campus of weather advisories and other emergencies, Cubbage said.

The alarm system was tested for the second time on Tuesday morning and will be tested on the first Tuesday of every month, in conjunction with the testing of outdoor alarm systems throughout Illinois.

While students on the Chicago campus receive emergency phone messages, NU is looking into an alternative to an outdoor alarm system at the Chicago campus.

“An outdoor alert system may not be practical because of the density of the Chicago area (and) residential units (in the area),” Cubbage said.

Still, the university is looking into other possibilities, including alert systems in the side buildings of the Chicago campus, he said.

Additions to campus security include an emergency notification system for all students, faculty and staff that went into effect early this academic year. Undergraduates were asked to submit an emergency notification number last fall in order to register for Winter Quarter classes. In the event of an emergency, a recorded voice message will be sent almost instantaneously to all faculty, staff and students on both campuses.

“The phone call is the key part,” Cubbage said. “To dial the entire campus community can be done in less than half an hour. That’s more than 25,000 numbers.”

The emergency notification system also sends out text and e-mail messages to its database of contacts. While the system will be tested at least once every academic year, the effectiveness of emergency messages may be hampered by students’ limited accessibility through their cell phones.

Weinberg freshman Sarah Gregory said she usually keeps her phone on silent.

“If it was a dire emergency and people needed to know immediately, many people are not going to get the message,” she said.

For both NU campuses, the use of a combination of communication methods is necessary to ensure all students and faculty are notified in an emergency.

“The emergency notification system enables us to use several different communication channels to reach the campus community,” Cubbage said.

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