Emergency Text-Alert Service Available

In the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings, many universities – including Northern—now offer instant text-message alerts to complement their existing emergency notification procedures.


“There is talk of making this type of service a requirement for all universities,” said Jeff Mincheff (Public Safety and Police Services). “A driving force behind this is the Clery Act and its emphasis on timely notification. It’s estimated 95 percent or more of the campus population has cell phones with text messaging capability, so it’s an easy way to contact a majority of the people you’re trying to reach in an urgent situation."

The service is free, aside from any applicable text messaging fee associated with the cell phone carrier, but it isn't automatic. Individuals have to opt in by registering at NMU Alerts. After logging in with their NMU user ID and password, they proceed to a sign-up screen to enter their cell phone number and carrier. It is possible to add or delete multiple cell phone numbers during each login. Students who want their parents to receive the same timely alerts, or employees who want spouses or significant others notified, would have to enter the additional cell phone information when they sign up.

NMU has contracted with OTAir’s “University Alert System.” Mincheff said the company has higher education and corporate clients nationwide. He stressed that the service will be used only for emergency notifications.


“Our plan does not include using it to announce that Northern beat Michigan State in hockey,” he added. “We could do that–it has that capability– but our focus is on emergency situations so people who have to pay for individual text messages don’t receive more than they want or need. We will test it twice a year, but I hope we never have to use it otherwise.”


If the text-alert service had been in place last summer, Mincheff said it likely would have supplemented an e-mail sent to the campus community after an incident that Public Safety deemed a “potential threat.” A female student reported that a man knocked her down and stole her purse as she left a campus building.


Northern also can broadcast emergency messages via the campus e-mail and phone systems. Even the notebook computers issued last fall feature a new program that allows Public Safety to send out an alert at any time. In these cases, the computer screens would turn bright red with a “Public Safety Alert” message and users would be required to click on the screen in two places to return to their previous activities.


Mincheff said Public Safety will work with the annual computer distribution process and with Housing and Residence Life to promote the value of the new text-alert system to students in the hope that they will take the added step of signing up.


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Updated: March 19, 2008

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