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April 24, 2007

Purdue expands emergency notification options

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue University on Tuesday (April 24) announced it is adding an additional method of emergency communication to its mutilayered response plan, launching a Facebook group where individuals with a e-mail address can sign up to receive security-related information.

The university also is exploring whether it would be possible to send an alert to all members of this "Purdue Emergency Notification" group. Members of Facebook groups can designate how they would like to receive messages. Options include having them sent as text messages to mobile devices such as cell phones, as e-mail or as messages to be read at their Facebook account.


"About 85 percent of Purdue students are registered users of Facebook, and 65 percent access it daily," said Pablo Malavenda, associate dean of students. "We created the page on Friday (April 20), and already we had more than 1,700 people who had joined the group. Currently, though, Facebook only allows us to send messages to 1,000 individuals at a time, so that number would not be sufficient to reach everyone who is interested. We are contacting Facebook to see if rare exceptions might be possible."

During a campus emergency, the information that is posted and transmitted from the new group could offer a brief summary so people can take immediate action and then go to the Purdue home page for details.

While considering other new options, the university also is sending letters to all students, faculty and staff to remind them of its current plan to alert and inform them in an emergency.


"The quickest method is through our warning sirens," said Carol A. Shelby, senior director of environmental health and public safety. "Although people often think of these sirens in relation to tornadoes, this signal means to 'shelter in place.' Go to the lowest level in the building you are in and begin checking e-mail, text messages, the Purdue home page or news media sources to learn the nature of the problem."

Despite advances in communication, there is no way to reach everyone instantly with a single message, she said. Consequently, Purdue uses a several approaches, depending on the situation, including:

* An e-mail alert can be sent to building deputies. Every Purdue building, including residence halls, has a person designated to receive these messages. They, in turn, may forward the e-mail to others in the building or go to offices or rooms in person. They also may post signs on doors or in hallways.

"Sending an e-mail to our 200 building deputies is much faster than sending one to 50,000 faculty, staff and students," Shelby said.

* An e-mail can be sent to all people with a Purdue address. A massive e-mail transmission, however, may take an hour or more to reach everyone.

* Anyone, including parents, who want alerts e-mailed to them at a non-Purdue account also can sign up via the Purdue home page.

* A telephone tree would be used to contact those who live in Greek and cooperative housing.

* University Residences has procedures for alerting people in individual halls via their resident assistants, phones and signage.

* The Purdue home page ( is the focal point of the most complete information in all campus-related emergencies.

* The university also works with the news media - radio, TV, newspapers and Internet - to help spread the word.

Campus administrators who activate these systems carry pagers that alert them about any police, hazard or fire activity.

"While no amount of training and precaution can guarantee that everyone will be safe all the time, Purdue police and other public safety personnel are well-prepared," Shelby said. "Despite what you may have heard or read about the situation at Virginia Tech, a campuswide 'lockdown' is not truly possible. The campus is too large with too many buildings and doors. What we can do, though, is issue a call to "shelter in place," alerting everyone to stay inside or seek shelter where they can be safe until we can give them more information."

Although campus environments statistically are safer than the nation as a whole, the Virginia Tech incident has many asking if their campuses are ready to meet such an emergency.


"The recent Virginia Tech tragedy was a unique situation, but it reminds us that even in very safe environments, we have to be ready to respond to such emergencies," said Thomas Robinson, vice president for student services. "We believe the Purdue campuses are very safe, and we work constantly to make them safer. That is the reason that in the wake of this tragedy, all Purdue areas involved with security have met to review our state of readiness and apply lessons learned.

"We are considering additional options as we refine emergency notification procedures For example, two vendors have demonstrated systems to us that would include a text-messaging service. More than a half dozen others have contacted us. We will keep the campus updated as we move forward and also will educate our prospective and incoming students during Day on Campus and Boiler Gold Rush about our emergency procedures."

Additional information about campus safety can be found at the Purdue police Web site at

Writer: Jeanne V. Norberg, (765-494-2084),

Sources: Thomas Robinson, (765) 494-5776,

Carol A. Shelby, (765) 494-7504,

Pablo Malavenda, (765) 494-1232,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

Note to Journalists: Tippecanoe County tests its sirens, which includes those servicing Purdue, at 11 a.m. on the first Saturday of the month, unless the weather is inclement. They also are tested twice on a designated day in March.

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