Austin Fast

Since the e2Campus Emergency Text Messaging System was introduced this summer, Miami University administrators have been struggling with how to best test the effectiveness of the system and discover any hidden glitches.

Provost Jeffrey Herbst announced Monday at a university senate meeting that campus administrators plan to take the emergency text messaging system on its first test drive at the start of next semester.

“We will have a test in mid-January and before that test there will be a big publicity surge,” Herbst said.

Although the system has been advertised on the myMiami Web site twice, on Miami Metro buses, through e-mails and through various other venues, subscriptions to the service remain at less than one-fifth of Miami’s Oxford campus community.

Miami University Chief of Police John McCandless explains that although the Miami University Police Department (MUPD) strongly advocates and prominently promotes the system on the front page of the police Web site, they cannot force students and faculty to sign up for the system.

“At the end of the day, it’s voluntary,” McCandless said.

According to numbers released by McCandless, registrants for the Hamilton campus system number are at 1,235; for Middletown, 1,212; and for the Oxford campus, 3,785.

However, McCandless warned that these numbers cannot simply be summed up into one grand total of how many people have registered to use the system. He explains that this is because some people may have registered for all three Miami campuses or only for one or two of the campuses and there is no method to know who is signed up for which system.

IT Services Deputy Information Officer Debra Allison explained that this test is partly in response to student and faculty requests.

“We’ve been requested by many folks to do a test,” Allison said. “Many times these systems have a failure when they are tested. We need to test to see how the system will react here.”

Allison also emphasized that the e2Campus Emergency Text Messaging System is not a magic solution that will settle the problem of crisis management on campus immediately and permanently.

“When you try to develop methods to deal with these emergency situations, you have to develop a suite of methods because no one method is sufficient,” Allison said.

Some of the weapons that could be added to the university’s arsenal of crisis management solutions include e-mail distribution lists and a video-on-demand service in addition to the emergency text messaging system.

Allison explained that the university is working on e-mail distribution lists in Microsoft Exchange that could be used to get messages out very quickly. She plans to test the system within a few weeks.

Herbst hopes that the university will be able to expedite the processing time for these emergency mass e-mails.

“It will currently take about an hour to send an e-mail to everyone,” Herbst said. “We’re hoping to push that down to five minutes.”

Allison also said that the university is working on developing a video-on-demand service for classrooms, which could also send out emergency messages to computers and local television stations. However, Allison did emphasize that this idea is still very much in the initial planning stages.