A Wednesday test of the e-mail, text-message and phone-call notices went well, officials say

By John Darling

For the Daily Tidings

Southern Oregon University on Wednesday tested a new system that will alert all students, faculty and staff in the case of a shooter or natural disaster and give instructions on how to proceed.

The $10,000 Connect-ED system successfully sent test e-mails, text messages, voice mails and phone calls in a matter of minutes to more than 7,000 people who'd signed up for the alerts, said Eric Rodriguez, co-director of campus public security.

"One of the biggest challenges in an emergency is getting the word out," he said. "It's a 160-acre campus, with 30-odd buildings and 6,000 people. It's hard to get word around."

Campus officials and Ashland police have run pre-planning sessions on how to handle emergencies, such as a shooter, flood, fire or earthquake. Depending on the situation, police may have to ask people to lock down and "shelter in place" or evacuate a threatened building, said Rodriguez.

Another important function of the system is to be able to issue all-clear messages, he said.

Students must give their contact information and permission to receive the messages. All students and staff have an sou.edu e-mail address, which the system uses. Campus members overwhelmingly joined in the system, said SOU spokesman Jim Beaver.

The system was successfully used recently at Oregon State University, when it wanted to keep students away from a standoff with police two blocks off campus, said Beaver. He added that many colleges are getting an emergency notification system because of the lack of communication shown in the Virginia Tech massacre two years ago.

Rogue Community College does not have the system but is studying it.

Rodriguez and a number of other people on campus are authorized to activate the alert and can do it on or off campus, from a computer or cell phone, he said.

Staff of the SOU Women's Resource Center all received the alert and said it made them feel more safe. WRC worker Elizabeth McCullough said it's a step forward but no substitute for tracking on-campus people with known psychological problems.

Senior Heidi Hess said, "It's a real good idea, although there's no reception on cell phones down here in the basement (of Stevenson Union). I always knew (since Virginia Tech) that something was planned. It's sad it took so long to get something in place."