Emergency text alert system meets with mixed results on its first go-round

By Katy Petershack

The Sunday power outage marked the first actual use of Mac Alert, a fledgling text message system that notifies the campus community of campus emergencies. So far, though, only about 500 people have signed up for the alerts.Students who had subscribed to Mac Alert received a message around 7:48 p.m. Sunday night, more than an hour after power went out on campus at 6:35 p.m. Terry Gorman, associate director of facilities management, explained that he did not decide to send out a text message originally because they expected power to be back on within minutes.

After contacting Xcel Energy, Gorman said the college found it could be 10 to 12 hours before power returned. Gorman said a text message was then sent out because of a realization that “the emergency light systems in the Res-halls would go dark” after a certain period of time.

Jim Hoppe, dean of students, sent out the message from off campus.

Gorman said that Mac Alert was “another way for us at the college to. more quickly get out emergency information to students and staff.”

Although Gorman said that a system like Mac Alert had “been on the radar screen,” the program’s implementation was a response to crises at other universities around the nation, such as the recent shootings Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University.

Macalester partnered with several other colleges in the area including Hamline, St. Catherine’s and St. Olaf in order to make the program cost effective. The campuses are using the “EZ-Campus Company” which supplies the server and software to make Mac Alert a reality.

Gorman called the program “very good” but that he would “like to see more people” join. Once the text message went out informing students of the power outage, Gorman said, “people started streaming out of the res halls” in response to the text message directing students to go to the Campus center.

Once a text message is sent, Gorman said it should reach every subscribed cell phone within seven to 10 seconds, which explains students’ quick responses to Mac Alert after the power outage.

Some Macalester students remain skeptical of the program’s usefulness.

“I don’t want additional text messages sent to my phone from Macalester, it costs me money,” Becky Nieber ’09 said.

With the demonstration of the potential usefulness of the Mac Alert program after the power outage, Gorman remains hopeful as he continues to encourage more students to subscribe.

“It’s just so easy and if it ever came in handy. why not do it,” Jeremy Glover ’09 said.

To register for the alert, click on the “Mac and Beyond” tab of 1600 Grand and then click on “Mac Alert.” Both cell phone numbers as well as e-mail addresses can be registered to receive the alerts.