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In the wake of the shootings at Virginia Tech last April, Penn's Division of Public Safety announced Monday that it has implemented a new emergency notification system.

The system, called PennAlert, includes the ability for DPS officials to send text-message alerts in the event of an emergency.

Within minutes of an emergency, PennAlert will send notification via text messaging, voicemail and e-mail to Penn students, faculty, and staff. The service will also provide ongoing updates throughout the emergency.

Community members can enter contact information through their Penn InTouch accounts.

Previously, the Penn community was only notified of relevant emergencies via e-mail and online updates.

Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush said DPS began investigating a program several years ago that could operate through different modes of communication, including text messages.

At that time, DPS wasn't able to find a suitable management company.

Following the Virginia Tech shootings, after which a lack of communication was faulted for the school's delayed response, mass-notification systems became a priority for many colleges across the country.

"When Virginia Tech happened, there were some companies that came on that fit the bill," Rush said.

She added that PennAlert is "just one more tool in our tool chest to keep the Penn community safe."

Citing a year-long training program for all Penn Police officers involving scenarios with hostages and an active shooter, Rush said Penn is prepared to deal with an emergency of any sort.

"That kind of training and preparation, armed with the alert system, would be a great example of how we would need to notify the campus of this scenario," she said. "We're always thinking about the 'what ifs.'"

Security on Campus, a nonprofit organization that advocates for increased security awareness on college campuses, lauds the use of text message alerts.

"It adds another layer of warning," executive director Catherine Bath said. "Multiple layers are going to ensure you reach as many people as possible."

Rush said she initially had concerns about user privacy, but MIR3, the company that runs PennAlert, guarantees the privacy of all participants.

"All that it's going to be used for is really dire emergencies or when we're doing an emergency exercise on campus," Rush said.

In the future, PennAlert will be able to respond to emergencies in specific college houses or residences by only notifying those portions of the Penn community.

In addition to providing the number to their cell phone or PDA, students and staff can give contact information for a family member or friend to be reached in the case of an emergency.

Other schools and organizations, including Brown and Temple universities, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the U.S. Air Force Academy and Dell Computers, also use emergency notification systems powered by MIR3.

Rush would not say how much the service costs the University, although a similar service, e2campus, costs about $1 per user per year, according to its Web site.

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