The UPennAlert system has become an integral way for Penn students to receive breaking crime updates and to remain safe on campus. But for some situations, the Division of Public Safety decides not to send out an alert, even when the incident takes place on campus.
Several UPennAlerts have been issued since the beginning of January. On Jan. 25, an alert was sent out notifying students about a burglary on campus and on the night of Jan. 28, another UPennAlert was sent out about a man who allegedly sexually assaulted someone on 38th and Woodland Walk. But on Jan. 17, when there was a suspicious package in the Quad package room and Philadelphia Police barred students from entering, a UPennAlert was not sent out.
Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush said as soon as a crime is reported, she gets on a conference call with 18 to 19 members of DPS to get details from the scene as it develops. Rush said DPS considers all available information, including the proximity of the threat to campus and the ability to keep the area closed off.
Rush added that if the incident is considered an ongoing threat to the Penn community, they issue a UPennAlert via text message, email, and on the DPS website. If the threat is over or deemed contained, however, they will not release an alert.
Rush said the package in the Quad was likely just "one that had gone around the world too many times."
That afternoon, DPS contacted Philadelphia Police Department’s Ordnance Detection Unit and blocked off the area to prevent entry. Philadelphia police X-rayed the package and determined it wasn't a threat. Because there was no ongoing threat to the Penn community, Rush said a UPennAlert was not sent out.
The UPennAlerts generally cover the Penn Patrol Zone, which covers an area from the Schuylkill River to 43rd Street and Baltimore Avenue to Market Street, including the Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, the DPS website stated. However, if a threat is on the border or nearing the patrol zone, an alert will also be sent out, Rush said.
After the initial UPennAlert, the DPS website serves as a bulletin board for further updates on developing crime incidents. Additional details, such as safety tips and suspect descriptions, can be found on the website, which eliminates the need to repeatedly send out mobile alerts as new information is found throughout the investigation.
UPennAlerts were created in light of the Clery Act of 1990, which required all universities receiving federal funding to inform the public of crime in the vicinity of campus. These efforts were particularly enhanced following the 2007 Virginia Tech Shooting, the deadliest school shooting in United States history, DPS Director of Operations and External Affairs Kathleen Anderson said.
College and Engineering freshman Michelle White said she always reads through UPennAlerts and commits them to memory to help prevent getting into dangerous situations. White was most alarmed by an alleged rape case near her dorm, New College House.
“It was just one or two nights before that [when] I myself went out around 3 a.m. to the nearest Wawa. I personally had no bad experience, but it’s crazy to think that in the same area, around 34th and Chestnut at the same time of night, someone else — some young vulnerable girl — had a much worse experience than I did,” White said. “These kinds of things are very relevant to the rest of the student body, and they’re just good to know about.”
Wharton freshman Laura Abrishamkar said she believes UPennAlerts make students more vigilant.
“When there was the assault on 30th and Walnut, that’s four blocks from where I live, so that was really eye opening,” Abrishamkar said. “People often forget how easy it is to become a victim. Especially if you’re a young girl walking back alone at night at 2 a.m. and you think you are invincible and that you’re safe, but there’s really a lot of danger.”