Sirens erupted at Penn Park Friday afternoon, pausing activities for a brief moment as visitors glanced anxiously at the loudspeakers. “Attention. Attention. This is a test,” the voice echoed, and everyone resumed play as the announcement continued.
At exactly 3 p.m., the Division of Public Safety sounded the Siren Outdoor System — a component of the UPennAlert Emergency Notification System, which also includes mass text messages and emails. DPS conducts an annual shelter-in-place drill.
Twenty-two speakers systems relayed the message, covering 95 percent of campus. In total, it took DPS three minutes and 51 seconds to send 34,960 texts and 45,709 emails. This is a rate of about 349 messages per second.
Eleven percent of Penn affiliates were not reached via text or email. Mitchell Yanak, the director of technology and emergency communications for PennComm — an operations team that coordinates communication among emergency responders — said that 11 percent included people who have PennCards but whose phone numbers or email addresses are not listed in the database. According to Yanak, most of these people are likely temporary workers.
Yanak added that this was the alert’s most successful year due to the number of people the alert was able to reach.
According to Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush, the SOS is essential during an emergency that requires urgent notice to campus and UPennAlert text notifications cannot delivered quickly enough.
“[The SOS] is the quickest way to notify campus. It’s instantaneous,” she said.
This was demonstrated Friday, as the texts and emails were all delivered a few minutes after the SOS warning.
In addition to registering for the UPennAlert, Rush advised students to bookmark the DPS website in their smartphone browsers for emergency cases. “The [website’s] front page becomes UPennAlert,” she said.
Immediately following the test, 22 DPS directors and other staff gathered for a debriefing meeting.
Penn’s Chief of Fire and Emergency Services Eugene Janda launched the presentation with an analogy comparing DPS’s command system to a toolbox.
Janda brought out a toolbox and explained that each department has a specific responsibility. For instance, employees in operations, or the “doers,” are like the hammers in the toolbox, while those who plan future actions, or the “thinkers,” are like the tape measurers.
“Command is unified, so there is always joint decision making,” Janda said.
During the meeting, Deputy Chief of Police Mike Fink broke down the different types of emergencies DPS can encounter.
A Level One — or yellow — emergency is a situation DPS usually handles on its own. An orange Level Two involves other response teams such as the Philadelphia Fire Department. A red Level Three describes a campus-wide emergency.
At the highest level, the Crisis Management Team, directed by the University president and chaired by the provost and executive vice president, meets during a Level Three emergency and makes big decisions, such as cancelling classes.
The meeting ended with a “table-top” discussion of a mock emergency scenario “to see if we can improve our response in the future,” Fink said.
They discussed what actions each department would take in the event of increasingly severe weather emergencies, from a simple tornado watch all the way up to a storm that causes major destruction.
“We practice this as a group,” Rush said. “We hope we don’t have to use [these procedures], but we are ready if we do.”
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