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Is emergency a T9 word?

April 25, 2007

The Virginia Tech massacre last week caused a stir nationwide among university administrators. It is hard to pass judgment on the actions VT officials took following the initial murders of two students in a dormitory — hindsight, we all know, is 20/20.

In the wake of the VT tragedy, people have asked if there was more the University could have done to warn students— Is there a better way to get emergency information to the people who need it most?

Among the many suggestions to better disseminate information is the thought of an emergency text messaging system. I don’t have the data, but I don’t think it is a stretch of the imagination to assume most college students have a cell phone; most college students text message on a regular basis. The problem with this idea, or at least a favorite critique of an emergency text messaging system, is the fear that large mass text messages will overwhelm cellular systems, which in turn would make the system an ineffective (and expensive) means of dissemination.

The above mentioned critique seems fair enough — I certainly don’t have the expertise to analyze the triumphs and perils of such a system. I do, however, know UNM has just announced an emergency text messaging system. A response to the VT tragedy? Well, to say this announcement is a mere coincidence seems a little… hopeful.

UNM’s new emergency text message system is dubbed, TextMe UNM. It appears that UNM has contracted with Omnilert to provide the service. The University will use the system to inform students, faculty, and staff of weather and safety alerts. Users have the option to sign up for alerts regarding the Albuquerque Campus, Residence Halls, or UNM Hospital. In addition to receiving text messages, the service also provides users with an RSS feed to plant on their homepage or subscribe to via their RSS reader of choice.

It seems UNM is taking a proactive stance in the wake of last week’s events. Good. I hope the system is never used for safety alerts, but I’m probably dreaming.

Tangentially: I think the emergency text system is a great idea, but it got me thinking, “Why don’t they do this for Amber Alerts, too?” You hear that city council? Text message Amber Alerts — do it.

“Hey, what is T9?”

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