From alerting residents about flying debris during Hurricane Irene to relaying the threat of an armed gunman at the Law Center’s campus, the HOYAlert system has become a staple of university communication this year. Over 15,550 students, faculty and staff are subscribed to HOYAlert, the Office of University Safety system that updates the community about real-time changes to the university’s operating status due to inclement weather and immediate safety threats. “The HOYAlert system is designed as an opt-in system, where members of the community choose to enroll in the system in order to receive alerts,” Director of Media Relations Rachel Pugh wrote in an email. “It serves as one of the primary means of communication in the event of an incident that poses a life safety threat to members of the Georgetown University community.” Participation in the system requires a university NetID and the selection of a primary on-campus location with which the individual identifies as his or her primary location — typically one’s residence hall or apartment. Although electing to receive HOYAlerts is entirely voluntary, the Office of University Safety strongly encourages students, faculty and staff to sign up for the system. “The importance of enrolling in HOYAlert cannot be understated,” Pugh wrote. According to her, the development of the HOYAlert system was prompted by the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech, after which several universities instituted emergency notifications systems. However, concerns about delayed response time were heightened by the possible gunman on the Georgetown Law Center campus two weeks ago. Those on the main campus subscribed to HOYAlert received a text message from the university at around 1:40 p.m. to alert them of the event though the gunman was reported near the Law Center at approximately 12:30 p.m. Some students were initially alarmed by a lack of communication from the university after Vital Vittles and the Georgetown University Alumni and Student Federal Credit Union temporarily closed after hearing of the threat around 1 p.m. The main campus alert was the second in a series of text messages sent to HOYAlert participants, according to Pugh. The first was sent to individuals enrolled in the system who identified themselves as members of the Law Center campus. Pugh acknowledged the difficulty of distributing information as quickly as possible, however. “Every situation is unique, and delivery time is impacted by cellular network coverage, carrier infrastructure and a variety of other factors,” Pugh wrote. HOYAlert operates under the guidelines established by the university’s Department of Emergency Management & Operation Continuity, and its use in individual situations is based on the input of law enforcement professionals, according to Pugh. The text, voice and email messaging system is part of a larger university communication network that is intended to alert students through multiple means in the case of an emergency. This includes broadcast emails sent to all university members, preparedness website updates, banners on the Georgetown website, GU cable television banners and the network of building and floor marshals. “We take the safety and security of our community very seriously, and we are always reviewing our procedures to see how we can enhance them,” Pugh wrote. Many students have taken the warnings of the Office of University Safety to heart and signed up for the service in order to remain aware of campus safety concerns. “I think it lets you know important safety information on campus that you wouldn’t necessarily know,” Courtney Ingard (COL ’15) said. For Ingard, the service helped when the university sent a mass text messages alerting students about the possibility of a gas leak in Maguire Hall in mid-September. “I have a class in McGuire and it just made me more aware, so I could avoid the area,” she said. Others, however, do not see the merits of a system that they feel is overbearing. “I didn’t even know about it,” Elizabeth DeRosa (COL ’13) said. “I think the emails are sufficient to my knowledge of what’s going on.” “There’s so much crime at this school, and I don’t like getting flooded with text messages,” Claire Hardwick (COL ’12) said.
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