The installation of the new Emergency Notification System (ENS) means USF may soon become a safer campus, if the system is implemented correctly. The need to improve the way the University deals with emergencies became clear this year after students were not alerted of several incidents.
The MoBull emergency text messaging system was not used to notify students after a man pulled a gun during a Phi Beta Sigma talent show in Cooper Hall and attempted to flee campus or after a bomb threat led to the evacuation of a residence hall. Following the bomb scare, students wondered why they did not receive a text message alert.
The ENS consists of eight stations that will blast sirens and play a recorded message over loudspeakers when an emergency occurs. While there will be messages for ten different kinds of emergencies as well as an all-clear signal, the system will not relay specific details. If there is a chemical spill on campus, the alarm will not say where. Students will receive text or e-mail alerts with specific information.
Because the ENS must work with the existing MoBull alert system to be effective, the new system may not make the campus safer. The University has failed to use the MoBull system in the past, and there is no guarantee they will use the ENS. Reform is needed to ensure students are alerted of all emergencies.
Students must also be educated about the alarm system. If they do not know what the sirens mean, they will not know what to do and may simply ignore them or panic.
Adam Thermos, a security consultant who works with universities, told the St. Petersburg Times that faculty, staff and students must be taught how to respond to the alarms correctly, as is done with fire drills.
“Otherwise, it’s not going to work,” he said. “Kids are going to be nuts in the beginning and then they’re going to say, ‘More of the same. I’m not going to respond.'”
The emergency warning siren stations will be officially introduced in the fall during a public demonstration and a public awareness campaign. The University must, however, educate students, implement drills, and make more effective use of the MoBull system if the stations are to be effective.