Cell phone text messages may not be an effective way of getting information out in an emergency, according to a recent report by a Georgia Institute of Technology professor.
But officials in Penn's Division of Public Safety say they are confident the UPennAlert emergency system - which sends notifications through text, e-mail and voice messages - will work if it is needed.
Patrick Traynor, the Georgia Tech computer science professor who developed the report, claims that the architecture of cell phone networks makes the system unable to deliver a high volume of emergency messages in a short period of time.
His report concludes that cell phone networks cannot send out a sufficient number of alert messages in 10 minutes, which is the goal set by the Emergency Alert System charter, a national public-warning system.
Eugene Janda, DPS' chief of fire and emergency services, disagrees that cell phones might cause such a problem. He said, "SMS is the way to go," referring to text message alerts.
Janda cited the University's recent shelter-in-place drill as evidence that text messages are effective in issuing an emergency alert.
In the shelter-in-place drill, roughly 6,000 students were targeted to receive a text message alert through UPennAlert. In the event of a real emergency, that number would be more than 50,000.
However, Janda said he is confident that the system would still work, but said that it might take a little longer for the system to process such a huge volume of messages.
"It's a way to get information out very quickly, as opposed to recorded voice messages," he said.
Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush agreed with Janda, saying that DPS was "very happy with the response of the system."
The main concern she expressed was that some people don't have the DPS number in their phone, making them likely to ignore an alert.
She added that text messages are just one component of the University's emergency-alert system. Penn is in the initial stages of planning for a siren-alert system that would put loudspeakers around campus for use during emergencies.
Security on Campus, a non-profit organization that promotes safety on college campuses, was not so quick to dismiss the validity of the new finding.
"It confirms what has always been a concern of ours: getting information to people in a timely manner," said Jonathan Kassa, executive director for Security on Campus.
Kassa said the study underscored the importance of using multiple methods of communication.
"It doesn't mean that we shouldn't use these systems," he said. "Now that we know it's a weakness, we can work to improve it."Comments powered by Disqus
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