Emergency notification can be made through text, e-mail systems
By Richard Harris | firstname.lastname@example.org
Students who ignored an e-mail urging them to register for a new campus emergency notification system may have given it a second look if they had known about a series of bomb threats the college received just minutes before the mass e-mail was sent.
The set of four threatening e-mails, sent in the early hours of Sept. 3 to an account monitored by Director of Admissions Marc Williar were all the same. According to the St. Augustine Police report, they stated: “A bomb is in the General’s House and will explode on 4th of Sept… This will be Flagler’s day in history.”
ABC news reported that at least 13 universities, including Princeton and MIT, had been targeted for anonymous e-mail bomb threats as students returned to classes early last month.
The FBI confirmed that many e-mail threats received across the county were sent using anonymous remailer services, making the source difficult to trace.
“The e-mails were cleverly sent to make them about as hard to trace as possible,” Director of Technology Services, Joseph Provenza said. “But most of them were emanating form Italy and one from Aruba. That was about as close as we could trace them.”
Coincidentally, the e-mails were received the same day the college launched its e2 Campus emergency notification system.
“Ironic,” Provenza said. “That was a weird day. We were in the middle of check-in. It was just hustle and bustle and then this happens.”
The latest incident gives credence to e2 Campus notification system, which can send text messages or e-mails to thousands of registered students, faculty and staff with the click of a mouse.
“We had been looking at notification systems for a bit, but it had kind of been a back burner, then Virginia Tech happened, and it was like, ‘Wow, we need to do this now,’ as did many colleges and universities across the county,” Provenza said.
The system was selected because it was affordable, effective and easy to use. Its sole purpose will be to alert students during emergency situations.
“I think we need [a system] that the students realize is for emergencies only,” said Dean of Student Services Daniel Stewart. “If you tie that to [a system] that we would use for periodic notification of events on campus, much like our e-mail, students would hit the delete button before the read button.”
The seven members of the College Crisis Management Team, including Stewart, Provenza, President William T. Abare Jr., Vice President of Business Services, Kenneth Russom and Director of Security, Al Howard, have the ability to send a message to all registered members of the e2Campus system.
“If there is an emergency going on, I can type a message and click send, and everybody who is signed up for it will get either a text message on their cell phone or an e-mail depending on how they signed up,” Provenza said. “It’s a rapid notification system. It can send out tons of messages in a very short period of time.”
Use of the system is voluntary, although Provenza and Stewart encourage all students, staff and faculty to become members. The system currently has more than 500 registered users.
“It’s a free service, there’s no reason not to sign up for it,” Stewart said. “In today’s society, you might as well take advantage of a system like this.”
The college has also upgraded its Carillon System. The loud-speaker, which plays chimes from the west tower of Ponce Hall, can now be used to broadcast emergency information to individuals within earshot. That, along with e2Campus could be used in unison if necessary.
“It’s not the cure, by any stretch, but it is one more tool in the bag,” Provenza said. “The more people you can notify about something, the better.”
“We have a very safe campus, but a lot happens in the city of St. Augustine,” Stewart said. “We are using it as a precaution, like an insurance policy. My hope is that we never have to use it.”
Stewart, a member of the college crisis management team, was one of the first people notified of the bomb threat hoax.
“I don’t think many students knew about it,” Stewart said. “Within an hour and a half we had news that it was a hoax.”
“It was all taken very, very seriously,” Provenza said. “They had the building sniffed by a bomb dog, law enforcement was here. It was rechecked the next morning. They spared no caution, and this was after it was declared a hoax.”
The last campus bomb threat Stewart could recall was in 1996 during a forum in the auditorium.