With sirens in place, AlertSU looks to integrate social media

AlertSU, the university's emergency warning system, now boasts seven sirens, mass email notifications, mass phone calls, text messages, emergency hotlines (650-725-5555) and an emergency website. Emergency Manager Keith Perry is next looking to the potential of social media.

L.A. Cicero Keith Perry

Emergency Manager Keith Perry

A year ago this month, seven sirens capable of projecting sound and voice messages up to a half-mile were installed throughout campus.

Those sirens are now a staple of the AlertSU mass-communication system, which includes mass email notifications, mass phone calls, text messages, emergency hotlines (650-725-5555) and an emergency website. It potentially could include social media postings as well. The system is designed to warn campus of emergencies ranging from fires to dangerous people. Such systems will soon be required under the Higher Education Opportunity Act.

Since their installation, the sirens have been tested twice – in October and April. During each test Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) has collected data about audibility and intelligibility in order to improve message delivery. The next test will be Oct. 7.

The system has yet to be "tested" in a real emergency. But it's just a matter of time, Emergency Manager Keith Perry says, especially given the area's susceptibility to earthquakes.

"Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, you know that a major earthquake is not a question of 'if,' it's a question of 'when,'" he said. "Stanford is in a seismically active area, and a major earthquake could happen any day. It could be tomorrow, it could be a year, it could be five years from now."

Perry said EH&S is now looking for ways to improve AlertSU, including integrating the system with social media so that emergency messages could be immediately posted on Stanford's Facebook page and Twitter feed.

Perry also hopes to take advantage of the ever-increasing capabilities of smart phones. Soon, AlertSU may be able to not only send messages but receive them as well. Additionally, satellite GPS technology in smartphones could help EH&S locate students and staff during an emergency.

"Imagine if every staff member and student became part of the response by identifying hazardous conditions and reporting that information to the Emergency Operations Center," said Perry. "The entire process of collecting emergency information would be accelerated if emergency alert systems were capable of two-way communications."

In the meantime, Perry hopes the continuing AlertSU tests serve as reminders to the Stanford community to plan carefully for the inevitability of crises.

"By having a system that we test regularly in a public manner it gives us the opportunity to really promote the Emergency Management program at Stanford and to educate people about what it is we expect them to do should an emergency occur on campus," said Perry.

Specifically, he encourages all staff, faculty, students and local emeriti to keep their personal information in Axess or StanfordYou up to date so that they can be reached by the AlertSU system. In addition, EH&S recommends that everyone have a personal emergency plan. Should a major earthquake occur, EH&S recommends that people should be prepared to support themselves with food, water and other necessities for up to 72 hours. EH&S offers a monthly class, EHS-5090, on creating a personal emergency plan for faculty and staff.

Sam Julian is an intern with University Communications.