SAIT’s emergency notification system SAITALERT was tested on Jan. 28, with around 1,100 of the more than 1,300 SAIT students registered confirming they received a notification.
“We really want to test these things, and to engage people in the test,” said Melanie Simmons, public relations specialist for SAIT.
“It gives us a chance to have an accurate measure of how we would perform in an emergency.”
The test began with a text message to the 1,300 students and 2,500 staff registered, which requested an acknowledgment in return.
If the recipient did not acknowledge or receive the text, SAITALERT would move on to a phone call.
The notification system is one piece of SAIT’s emergency communications plan, and it exists to provide accurate information to students and staff in the case of a safety threat on campus.
“They’re only issued in the event of an immediate, meaningful, and confirmed threat to the safety of occupants at any SAIT campus,” Simmons explained.
These threats could include a major fire, a bomb threat, a weapons-related incident, the potential for severe weather or a series of violent offenses in a community close to SAIT.
“It’s really a short, important message,” said Simmons.
“It’s going to address the nature of an emergency, the immediate action to be taken, and where to find more information.”
With about 1,100 of the 1,300 students registered for the service acknowledging they received the notification, SAIT communications was happy with the results of the test.
“We felt like we got a really great measure of how we could perform in an emergency,” said Simmons.
An incident on Nov. 12, 2014, in which a broken security gate resulted in mistaken reports of gunfire on campus, provided SAIT communications and security with a learning experience in how quickly false information can spread in an emergency situation.
“Information is the most powerful tool we can have during an emergency, and that’s what people really want to know, is the most accurate information,” said Simmons.
In the incident, unconfirmed information was being spread on social media before SAIT communications or security could properly address and dispel it.
“We have to make sure that we’re not sending out information that’s wrong.”
In order to efficiently communicate with students in the case of a threat, SAIT communications wants students to register for the SAITALERT service every year.
The database is purged every fall so that students and staff are required to provide up-to-date contact information each year.
“It could be somewhat of an inconvenience to people, but of course when you’re dealing with a crisis, it’s really important to have up-to-date contact information,” said Simmons.
Promotion for SAITALERT is increased before each test, using the SAITVIEW screens in buildings across campus as well as the weekly student bulletin to urge students to register for the notification system prior to the test.
“We had a number of new registrations leading up to the test, so that helps us increase our awareness of the culture of safety at SAIT,” said Simmons.
SAITALERT is one part of the emergency communications plan, which includes those SAITVIEW screens, the school website SAIT.ca, the student bulletin, and the SAITNOW bulletin sent to staff members.
In the case of an emergency, SAITVIEW will provide on-screen information, while the communications department has the ability to switch SAIT.ca to a dark site meant to provide information in an emergency situation.
“[SAITALERT] is one piece of a very multifaceted emergency communications plan.”