By Kim Pernice
The University of Mary Washington will begin installation of a $300,000 area warning system this coming January. School officials say the campus-wide network of loudspeakers and sirens—to be used in emergency situations such as the recent tragic shootings at Virginia Tech—should be in operation by the end of spring semester.
The loudspeakers and sirens will coincide with UMW Alerts, an emergency text-messaging system the school initiated at the beginning of fall semester. School officials say UMW Alerts had a 98 percent successful delivery rate during its most recent test run.
Environmental Health and Safety Director Ruth Lovelace said several different contractors will be installing the equipment, which was purchased from ADT, a company that sells security systems for homes, businesses and the government.
Students say they will feel safer with this type of security system.
“The system obviously won’t be able to completely prevent any disaster from happening on campus, but it’s comforting to know that now there will be a better way to protect students,” said junior Angela Glynn. “It’s good to know that safety and security is a top priority.”
Acting UMW President Rick Hurley said he is pleased that the security plans are moving forward.
“I am excited that we are finally at the point where equipment has been ordered and an installation schedule developed,” he said in an e-mail interview. “It has taken longer than I hoped it would but understand that we had to ‘engineer’ the campus to make sure the sirens could be heard everywhere.”
Susan Knick, assistant vice president for Public Safety and Community Services, said there will be eight speaker locations—one at the Battleground Athletic Complex, two at George Washington Hall, two at Seacobeck, one at Simpson Library, one at the parking deck and one at the Stafford campus of the College of Graduate & Professional Studies.
The area warning system is intended for outdoor notification and not designed to be heard inside. No speakers will be installed within buildings, according to school officials.
Some students, like junior Sarah Pierson, wonder if the speakers will fit in with the campus décor. However, Knick said that the speakers will not greatly alter the campus’s appearance.
“Most of the speakers will be mounted on rooftops so they will not be obviously visible,” Knick said in an e-mail interview. “For the battleground and CGPS locations, blending in with the landscape and location will be done to the best of our abilities.”
In a recent campus-wide e-mail, Teresa Mannix, director of News and Public Information, explained how the new system will be employed.
“Alert UMW will only be used in life-threatening emergencies,” she said. “We want to ensure that when an Alert UMW notice goes out, it is received as something out of the ordinary vs. routine, and therefore is given immediate notice and response by recipients.”
During the most recent test run of UMW Alerts, officials sent out 5,169 test warning messages; 111 were “non-deliverable”— a 98 percent successful delivery rate. According to school officials, no single mobile carrier was responsible for all the non-deliverable messages.
Many other Virginia schools have also taken precautionary measures to secure their campuses.
Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia, Christopher Newport University and Longwood University all employ the mobile notification system that sends emergency text messages and e-mails, but only Longwood has installed a loudspeaker system like UMW’s.
As of Nov. 20, 2007, there were 2,425 subscribers to UMW Alerts with 5,462 devices, such as pagers, cell phones, e-mail accounts and blackberries, registered to receive alerts.
To subscribe to UMW Alerts visit http://alert.umw.edu