UP to add new safety options

Officials hope two new emergency notification systems, which are set to be unveiled in the next few months, will help create a safer atmosphere on campus.

Alana Ennis, assistant vice president for Public Safety, said the “Guardian911” and “Smart911” programs, which will use technology to have better access to students’ information and location on campus, will aid University Police (UP) with responding to emergency calls. 

The Guardian911 system, which will track students who register for the service when they cross campus, will help with safety at night, Ennis said.

“Let’s say you have a late-night class or you worked late in the Library and you are walking to your car,” Ennis said. “You know it takes 10 minutes to walk from the Library to your car, so you call this 800 number that you are given, and you can set a timer on your mobile phone.”

After those 10 minutes pass, a student will receive an automated text message reminding them to turn off the timer. Then an automated call will come. If a student does not respond, 911 dispatchers will know the student’s location and can place a personal call to determine his or her safety.

“If you are not OK or you don’t answer the live call, then they will start looking for you,” Ennis said.

The program, which will be restricted to on-campus use, is accessible through any mobile phone — regardless of GPS capabilities — as long as it can receive text messages, said Christopher Akin, associate director of Information Technology. Most phones, even older models, have a GPS chip built-in for 911 purposes, he said.

“The idea is that you can set the timer when you are not feeling really safe about your surroundings and where you are heading,” Akin said. “But you have to call in to set the timer. It is not automatically activated.” Students who sign up for the Guardian911 service may also benefit from registering for the Smart911 service, which provides UP with additional personal information: the caller’s USF ID photo, vehicle type, license number and class schedule.

If students register for the service, their information will automatically be displayed on a UP dispatcher’s monitor when an emergency call is placed.

“Studies have shown that the more information the police have about you during an emergency situation, the better able they are to help you,” Akin said.

Rave Mobile Safety, the company that provides the MoBull text message alert service, will provide the services through a free, one-year trial.

“We are experimenting with this service for the first year. After that, we are not sure what will happen or how much the services will cost to run if we choose to continue them,” Ennis said. “We want to ensure that it is a success before we invest in it. If people don’t sign up for it, then we’ll know it’s not a success.”

USF currently implements six channels of communication for emergency notifications: MoBull, eight outdoor sirens and speakers, e-mail, the USF Web site and Blackboard portal, 150 digital display screens around campus and a weather and emergency number that plays a recorded message “primarily used for parents to get information,” Akin said.

Call boxes are also placed throughout campus, which are used “a few thousand times a year,” Ennis said.

“USF is ahead of the game in terms of the six channels of communication which are used in different scenarios,” Akin said. “We have had really good performance from all of them, and we have not had any problems or malfunctions.  Between 95 to 97 percent of people receive their messages really quickly.”

UP spokeswoman Lt. Meg Ross said the systems are effective, but “no one channel of communication is expected to reach everyone.”

Advertisements will be placed in frequently viewed areas like Blackboard, The Oracle and the USF home page to provide information on how to sign up for the services, Akin said.

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