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Wake Forest makes big strides toward better communication in event of emergency

August 27, 2008

Since last fall semester, Wake Forest University has made significant strides in enhancing how it communicates promptly with students, staff and faculty in the event of an emergency on its Reynolda Campus.   In addition, Wake Forest has a new system in place for communicating directly with local police, firefighters and other emergency first responders.

The university began this effort in 2007, following the Virginia Tech tragedy.  Wake Forest President Nathan O. Hatch directed the university’s Crisis Management Team to conduct an intensive review of campus emergency preparedness measures.  That review, in part, led to developing an expanded list of ways to reach students, faculty and staff in the event of an emergency.

Last spring, Wake Forest launched a new mass notification system for sending text messages to mobile phones.  If a phone does not accept the emergency message, the system will send a recorded voice message, instead. 

In a test last spring, the system worked well, quickly sending text messages to  those who had registered their mobile phones with the university, according to Kenneth Zick, vice president for student life and chair of the Wake Forest Crisis Management. Team.  Wake Forest requires all students to provide their mobile phone numbers to the university so that the university can send emergency messages to them.  The university encourages staff and faculty to provide numbers, and many have.

Zick recommends that anyone on campus who has not registered their mobile phone to visit WIN and provide that information.  It is also important, he said, that people with changed numbers visit WIN to update their information. 

Registering a mobile phone number can be done by visiting the Personal section in WIN and clicking on the Your Personal Information link. 

Wake Forest also installed a custom messaging system last spring for the campus cable TV system.  In the event of an incident, a message can be displayed on the entire screen of any turned-on television that is connected to the cable system.  The system has done well in testing.

Later this semester, the university will install and test a new outdoor tone and voice alert system.  Electronic sirens will be installed atop tall poles that will be placed at various places on campus.  The exact locations have not been determined, yet.  In addition, the system will allow for pre-recorded emergency alert messages to be broadcast outdoors, too, using the same equipment.

University officials expect the sirens and voice alerts to be audible campus-wide outdoors. 

All of these new emergency alerts will be activated by University Police.

In addition to the new communication methods launched and upcoming, the university will continue using existing methods for reaching students, staff and faculty in emergencies.  They include e-mail messages, voice mail messages on campus phones, and alerts on the university’s Web site.    

While developing these methods, Wake Forest also placed a high priority on improving direct communication with local emergency responders.  Last spring, the university installed a new two-way radio system for University Police that will enable University Police to communicate directly with area law officers, firefighters, Emergency Medical Services staff, and other key agencies.  The previous two-way radio system on campus only enabled University Police officers to communicate with each another.  To speak with off-campus agencies, University Police officers had to call them by telephone.

Wake Forest plans to keep its old two-way radio as a back-up.

“In recent years, especially since 9/11, it’s become clear nationwide that agencies must be able to communicate with each other directly in a crisis,” said Zick, the long-time chair of the University Crisis Management Team.  “The federal government has been encouraging this transition with local agencies all across the country.”

Zick will be working this fall to increase campus awareness of the new emergency alert methods as well as other steps taken by the Crisis Management Team to prepare for emergencies.  For instance, Zick and University Police Chief Regina Lawson will speak at 3 p.m. Sept. 8 at an event organized by the Teaching and Learning Center.  They will address crisis management planning, crisis communication, campus safety initiatives and practical advice for responding to particular emergencies.  The event will be held in Benson University Center, Room 401-B.  It is open to students, faculty and staff.

University Police will make similar presentations to campus groups and organizations, upon request.

Press Contacts:

Kevin Cox
(336) 758-5237

Cheryl Walker
(336) 758-5237

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