Campus alert system raises questions

On September 9, 2013

At 11 p.m. on Thursday night, Saurabh Gupta, a Ph.D. candidate in electrical engineering was held at gunpoint and forced into a bedroom by a man who walked on foot to his fiancee’s apartment after sexually assaulting four women and invading the apartment of another.

A few hours later, at 1:55 a.m. he received a text, along with other students, faculty and staff, via USF’s emergency notification service, MoBull Messenger:

“There is an unsafe situation in the vicinity of campus. Remain alert. Avoid area north of campus. Emergency personnel responding.”

Gupta’s fiancee, Claudia Seijo, said she was not satisfied with the text alert system.

“When the rapes happened at Cambridge Woods, that was something that should have been out to students immediately,” she said.

The string of home invasions and sexual batteries on Thursday night left some students on campus unsettled, and the university’s emergency alert system left some with questions.

Within minutes of the first text’s release, the USF “Class of ...” Facebook pages started filling up with questions and theories.

“Anyone know what’s going on??”

“I want to know so I can sleep without worry. They said to remain alert. How serious is that?”

“That txt just kinda made me wanna walk to north of campus.”

“I was driving around earlier and there were so many cops and a helicopter, you knew some serious s--- was happening. STILL NO DETAILS.”

One person posted that her RA mentioned something about a gunman. Another mentioned something about armed robbery. Another mentioned that it must be something about Fletcher “just being sketchy as usual.”

Reports began emerging on news outlets of a string of sexual batteries and home invasions reported in the USF area early Friday morning.

Though the suspect remained at large, at 6:28 a.m. a second notification was sent out via the USF emergency notification system:

“The event is over. Investigation on series of home invasions north of campus continues. 911 to report information.”

A freshman majoring in marketing, who said he did not wish for his name to be revealed because of his relation to the victims, said he was with the roommate of the Cambridge Woods residents who were sexually assaulted at the time the notifications were sent out.

“They did not relay the severity of the situation nearly enough,” he said. “I wanted her to be safe, but we had no actual idea what was going on. It was only in the morning we found out. They really needed to stress the importance more.”

At 10:43 a.m. a third alert was sent out:

“Police continue search for gunman near campus related to off campus crimes last night. Remain vigilant, report suspicious activity to 911.”

University Police spokesman Lt. Chris Daniel, who said UP sent out the alerts with consultation with USF’s Emergency Management team, a team comprised of USF administration, UP and USF’s Division of Public Safety, said it can be a difficult call determining what to put in the alerts that are sent out to all who sign up for MoBull alerts.

Daniel said the university could not disclose information that pertains to an active investigation. The second text stating the event was over, he said, was intended to let people know that the series of home invasions had ended.

Seijo said she was upset over the lack of details the alerts provided students with.

“They did not take security measures as they were supposed,” she said. “The description was already out and they should have said it in the text message. What if he were to come knocking on the door asking for help?”

Chelsi Arellano, a freshman majoring in English, said she was happy to have received the second alert.

“I’m happy they told us it was all over so we didn’t have to sit there and just worry,” she said. “They were sent out immediately. It gave us the information right then and there, so I felt lucky I had the text system.”

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