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Post-test assessment indicates Virginia Tech's emergency notification systems performed well


BLACKSBURG, Va., Oct. 15, 2008 – Officials in Virginia Tech's information technology and administrative services divisions continue to analyze the results of the Oct. 8 test of the university's emergency notification system. Early indications are that the systems tested that day performed as designed.

On Oct. 8, Virginia Test simultaneously test several elements of its emergency notification system, including the outdoor siren system; the university’s broadcast e-mail system, which sends a message to all student, faculty, and staff campus e-mail addresses (e-mails that end with @vt.edu); the emergency notification version of the university homepage; VT Alerts, which included SMS (text) messages to mobile devices, calls to home, office, or mobile phone numbers, and e-mails to non-Virginia Tech addresses; and the new electronic message boards in all general assignment classrooms.

A post emergency notification system test survey was sent to all university students, faculty, and staff; 6,729 people responded. Of those who replied, 6,493 (96 percent) indicated they had heard or received at least one test message. In addition, 5,517 (82 percent) indicated that they had received a message within the first 10 minutes of the test which began at 10:13 a.m.

According to John Beach of the Facilities Services Division, all six outdoor sirens performed as expected during the test. Twenty six percent of the community who responded to the survey indicated that they heard the outdoor siren first among the notification methods, more than any other method.

In addition, 25 percent of the survey respondents indicated they received a text message first; 19 percent reported receiving a university (@vt.edu) e-mail first, 15 percent heard and saw an electronic message board first; and 12 percent say they received a phone message first.

In total, 82 percent reported they received a university e-mail; 59 percent said they received a text message; 36 percent said they heard the outdoor sirens, and 33 percent received a phone message; 17 percent said they saw the classroom electronic message board; 9 percent received an e-mail to a non university account; and 4 percent saw it posted to the university homepage.

“What this tells us is several things,” noted Larry Hincker, associate vice president for university relations. “First, it tells us that our systems work, and when deployed simultaneously, they can get important information out to our campus community in a short period of time. Secondly, it tells us that no one method of communication can meet everyone’s needs. When you’re outside and walking to your next class, you will hear the sirens. When you are in class, you’ll see the message boards. Depending on where you are or what you’re doing at any given time during the day, you may receive an emergency notification in a different way.”

To expedite delivery of emergency notifications, staff in Network Infrastructure and Services, a department with Information Technology, developed a unified user interface that allows Virginia Tech Police and University Relations officials to send messages over four different delivery methods (university e-mail, university homepage, VT Alerts, and electronic message boards) at the same time.

“Instead of using four different protocols to send the same message over four different mediums, we’ve combined them into one Web-based delivery system,” said Hincker. “Our test proved how this efficiency saves valuable time.”

Network Infrastructure and Services continues to work to add additional emergency notification delivery methods to the unified user interface.