In the wake of the disaster at Virginia Tech, local universities adopting a system that will use text messaging to warn students and staff of emergencies.
An indispensable method of communication for teens and young adults, text messaging has become the newest way for colleges and universities to notify them of an emergency.
Several local universities have jumped on this high-tech bandwagon, with new systems in place at Bradley and Illinois Wesleyan universities and one due to roll out at Eureka College later this fall.
"It keeps us current. (Students) would respond to text messages. My mom would not," Eureka College spokesman Brian Sajko said Wednesday.
Other schools considering new alert systems that could include text messaging are Illinois State University, Western Illinois University and Knox College.
About 440 students and staff already have signed up for Bradley’s text message alerts in just the first week of school. It’s an opt-in system, which means school officials have been busy trying to get the word out.
"Hopefully there will be enough (people registered) that we can hit a concentration of students wherever they might be when something happens," said Steve Patrick, executive director of computing services at Bradley.
Text messages would only go out in immediate life-threatening situations, like an approaching tornado or a dangerous person on campus. Bradley already can deliver alerts by e-mail and calls to campus phones.
"You have a variety of communication methods. No one is perfect to reach every person … so you use all of those you could potentially use," said Bradley spokeswoman Kath Conver.
In the wake of the Virginia Tech tragedy in April, colleges and universities around the country are taking a critical look at their safety procedures and ways of alerting students. Lessons were learned from Virginia Tech e-mail alerts that were eventually sent out but sat unread in many in boxes.
"We did a review of our emergency procedures in light of Virginia Tech. I think everybody did. We found that we could do (alerts) better if we had a system that could connect to people’s cell phones," said Kathy Cavins of Illinois Wesleyan.
The university in Bloomington has introduced a system that can send automated calls to any phone and text messages to cell phones. Staff are signing up for it now, and students will be able to do so in about a week.
The system could be used for serious emergencies, but Cavins said it will be handy for communicating school closures in the winter. Eureka College also sees this as the most practical use for its system.
Bradley senior Taija Jenkins, who signed up to get text alerts, said it’s the best way to reach her. She already sends 3,000 or more text messages a month.
"Almost every student at Bradley has a cell phone that does have text messaging technology. It does make it easier when students are constantly on the go, and they don’t always have access to e-mail," said Jenkins, 20, a journalism major.
She said things could have gone differently at Virginia Tech if the school had a better system to send out alerts.
"Had they been able to reach students, it might have helped the situation a lot. I know they said they did everything they could, and I don’t doubt that, but there’s really room for improvement," Jenkins said.
Clare Jellick can be reached at (309) 686-3112 or firstname.lastname@example.org.