Ithaca College has adopted a new Emergency Notification System equipped with an app and more safety features for the college community.
David Weil, associate vice president and chief information officer for Information Technology, said the college installed the Blackboard Connect system following the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech, which killed 33 people. Recently, the college switched to a new system, Rave Guardian, which offers more streamlined communication, Weil said. The college made the switch in July and released information about the new system in an email sent to the campus community Sept. 12. Although he cannot disclose the cost of the new system or the previous system, Weil said, the new system is roughly the same cost as the previous system, and the college pays for it out of its central college budget.
“We put in the original system shortly after the tragedy of Virginia Tech,” Weil said. “That was sort of the catalyst for a lot of institutions to install an emergency notification system.”
The Emergency Notification System will be used when students, faculty and staff need to be notified about an issue as quickly as possible through phone calls, texts, emails and, eventually, push notifications. This includes notifications for severe weather conditions or an ongoing criminal incident requiring the community to take action to ensure its safety.
The email about the new notification system was sent less than a week after students were notified of a suspicious person on campus. The person was not a threat to the campus community, said Tom Dunn, associate director for the Office of Public Safety and Emergency Management, as previously reported by The Ithacan. Rosanna Ferro, vice president of the Division of Student Affairs and Campus Life, said the timing of the email announcement was coincidental and unrelated to the reported suspicious person. Ferro said discussions for the new system started in 2018.
Weil said Rave Guardian will include an app that students can download to choose different features of the Emergency Notification System that they would like to utilize. For example, Weil said, the app has a feature that allows students to track their locations. If a student wants Public Safety or a friend to know where they are traveling, they can turn on the feature, and if they do not check in at the end of their journey, Public Safety or the chosen party will be notified. Weil said these features will not be available on the app until Spring 2020.
Bill Kerry, director of Public Safety, said the app will most commonly be used to inform students of resources on campus. For example, the app will include information on services offered through the Hammond Health Center and the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services.
“What we want is to make this is an actual community resource,” Kerry said. “That’s something that’s really exciting — that there’s multiple dimensions to this app.”
Rave Guardian will also connect the Emergency Notification System to the Outdoor Warning System, a set of on-campus sirens that notify the campus of an emergency. Previously, the systems functioned as separate entities.
Cornell University also uses the Rave Guardian as an emergency notification system. Weil said the college had preliminary discussions with the Cornell Police Department to get feedback on how the system works.
Mark Conrad, director of technical systems and business administration for the Cornell Police Department, said via email that Cornell started using the system in 2017 and added the app in 2018. Conrad said over 1,800 users have downloaded the Rave Guardian app since 2018.
“Overall we have received positive feedback,” Conrad said in an email.
He said Cornell did not experience difficulties while installing the system.
Ithaca College tested the new system during the summer and on Sept. 17. During the tests, the biggest problem the college encountered was a glitch with a few phones where students received the alert but the contact information was incorrect, Weil said. He said the glitch has been fixed.
Weil said the college hopes to find a different way to sign students, faculty and staff up to receive emergency notifications. Currently, all students, faculty and staff are automatically signed up through email to receive the notifications. Faculty and staff also have their campus phones connected to the system. To receive notifications through personal phones, students, faculty and staff must manually enter their information on the Emergency Notification System website.
All information entered into the notification system is confidential, Weil said. Because the college needs to ensure that students feel secure signing up for the system, the storage of phone numbers in the system is completely separate from any other storage of information.
“Unfortunately, you know, the world the way it is today requires that all colleges, universities and K-12 schools have something like this in place,” Weil said. “In some respects, it is the single most important tool that we provide.”