We all hope we will never need it — or know anyone who will ever need it. But like any good insurance, having an Early Warning or Early Alert system in place is an essential — legally mandated — element of every college campus. It is a sign of our times, and it is at least some assurance that the school has a plan in place for an emergency.
Almost all colleges now have some form of Emergency Alert or Warning system which is a mass notification system allowing the college to reach students, faculty, staff, and sometimes family members in case of a campus wide emergency. This emergency might range from an active shooter on campus to a weather emergency. An amendment to the Cleary Act, following the shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007, now mandates that all schools create an emergency notification system.
An alert system is generally part of a larger campus emergency response plan. In case of emergency, students, faculty and staff members might receive messages on computers, home or office phones, or cell phones. Messages might come in the form of e-mail, voice messages, or text messages. Messages would give basic instructions about what to do — perhaps to evacuate a building or area or to shelter in place. Messages are generally disseminated as soon as there is sufficient information available to provide constructive information to all who need it.
Emergency notification systems are often tested once or twice a year, but tests are clearly identified and students and faculty are usually notified prior to the test.
Talk to your college student about the emergency notification available on their campus. They should know what it is and how it works. Make sure that your student is registered in the system and that their contact information is accurate. It is your student’s responsibility to make sure that the information is up to date. Some schools automatically register students for their notification system and students can then opt out if desired. Other schools require students to register and/or update their information each year. At some schools, such as Virginia Tech, students must register for the alert system prior to being allowed to register for classes.
Safety of students and staff is a high priority at every college. Talk to your student about the system in place at their school. There is at least some peace of mind in knowing that the school has both a notification system and an emergency response plan in place. Both you and your student should know what it is.