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Hearing about emergencies on campus is about to take on a new meaning.

DPS is planning an audible-alert system, which will include audible sirens and a public-address system spanning the area from 33rd to 40th Streets.

Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush explained that the system would benefit University visitors and nearby residents -- people not included in UPennAlert, Penn's emergency-notification system that alerts students and faculty through e-mail and text messages.

Speakers will be set up throughout the area to transmit safety messages. The system, Rush said, would be used for major situations on campus, such as an active gunman or the need to shelter in place.

Rush said the system is slated to be up and running by the end of this fiscal year, which ends in May.

UPennAlert is undergoing upgrades of its own, as the system was recently updated to make it easier for employees and faculty to register.

Rush said DPS is also working to launch new additions to its emergency preparations.

"We're working with Information Systems and Computing for the next phase of Penn Alert," she said. "We've looked at Facebook, among other things. It's all about communication."

While the system updates will most likely not include a Facebook group - a move some colleges have implemented - possible updates include directing people to a Web site or bulletin board on the DPS Web site via the LED screens, text messages and e-mails that UPennAlert already employs.

Penn isn't the only university updating its emergency-notification systems.

Recently, the University of Maryland at College Park created a Facebook group for "general emergency information and for information on emergency situations" at the university, according to the group's page. The group already has 256 members.

Tech upgrades have come in a different form at Virginia Tech, where LED display screens connected to campus alert systems have been installed in more than 100 classrooms and other buildings throughout the university.

These screens will be connected to the campus' other alert systems so that any updates during an emergency will flash across the screens.

Alison Kiss, program director for Security on Campus, a nonprofit organization dedicated to campus safety, said each school needs to do what works for its setting.

"Every institution is different so each school needs to do an assessment to determine what types of technology would best suit their needs," she said. "In the event of an emergency, it is best to have different ways to communicate an alert message."

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