Emergency test results reflect increased participation
Posted October 22, 2007; 04:43 p.m.
Princeton conducted a campus-wide test of its emergency notification system on Friday, Oct. 19, and was encouraged that 12,971 contacts with registered personal information in the system, or 87 percent, received a test message via live phone delivery or answering machine. Seventy percent of the calls were successfully received within the first 5 minutes of the test.
The test reflected improvements made to the Princeton Telephone and E-mail Notification System since its initial purchase in April 2007 to serve as an effective tool to notify the campus quickly about possible emergencies using multiple points of contact. During the PTENS test initiated at 1 p.m., the University sent simultaneous alerts to faculty, staff and students through landline phones, cell phones, e-mail and text messages, as could happen in a real emergency situation.
"Perhaps the most significant statistic is the increase in the total number of people who are now included in the notification system because they have now provided the University with at least one valid phone number," said Garth Walters, head of the University's Emergency Preparedness Task Force.
When the first test of the notification system was conducted in May, almost 2,500 individuals -- many of whom were graduate students -- were not included in the system because they did not provide at least one valid phone number in the Student Course Online Registration Engine (SCORE) database or the Office of Human Resources self-service website. The number of individuals without at least one valid phone number in the system now has dropped to just over 1,000.
"I believe this is due to a number of factors, including the outreach efforts of the registrar's office and the Graduate School," Walters said. "The Graduate School reached out to their students and asked them to update their information, and the registrar's office altered the SCORE database such that the first time a student accessed the system this semester, a screened popped up asking them to update their contact information."
Also noteworthy was the increase in the number of people who provided text message information. At the time of the May test, 1,011 individuals had supplied SMS text message addresses, while more than 5,000 additional people opted-in to receive text messages as of Oct. 19.
Walters credited this increase to the change in the way individuals were asked to provide text message information. In the past, individuals had to input their SMS text message e-mail address in SCORE or the HR website. This academic year, individuals with cell phone information in the system were automatically sent a message to their cell phones asking them to opt-in to receive text message alerts from the University's notification system.
"In an actual emergency situation, the University may not always choose to notify individuals via text message, but it's important to have text message information in the system to ensure we have multiple methods of reaching the campus community in an emergency," Walters said.
The test reached the vast majority of University members in student and employee databases through 18,634 phone calls, 17,280 e-mails and 6,604 text messages. Live phone delivery of the test message was received by 50 percent of all contacts in the system, while 37 percent of contacts in the system received the message by voice-mail. The notification system can access up to six phone numbers per person, in addition to two e-mail addresses and a separate text messaging address.
Faculty, staff and students were asked to update their phone, e-mail and text messaging information through the appropriate University self-service websites in order to be notified during the PTENS test. Walters said these efforts proved successful, noting that 64 percent of undergraduate students had put their cell phone information in SCORE as of Oct. 19. In August, the number of undergraduates who had put cell phone information in SCORE stood at 42 percent. The number of faculty and staff who had registered cell phone information in the HR database also increased, from 27 percent in August to 55 percent as of the Oct. 19 test.
Walters noted that cell phone information will now be included in the personal information for freshmen entering Princeton each year. For the first time this year, students were asked to provide cell phone information as part of the application for admission, so upon enrollment the cell phone numbers were entered as part of a freshman's personal information in SCORE. In the past, the University had not specifically asked students to provide cell phone information.
"During our outreach efforts, we noted that there is still some level of hesitation among a small segment of our population with regard to sharing cell phone information, but individuals should be assured that cell phone numbers in the system are private, and the University will only use PTENS to contact individuals with urgent messages," Walters said.
Individuals who did not receive the test through any of their expected personal contact numbers or addresses are asked first to verify that their information in the SCORE database or the Human Resources self-service website is correct. If the information in the database appears to be correct and the test message was not received, the University is asking individuals to e-mail email@example.com with a brief explanation of which contact numbers did not receive the test.
Members of the campus community updating their information should note that the PTENS system requires at least one valid phone number in order to accept the entire record for a specific person. If an individual provides only a text message address, the system will not notify that person.
The PTENS system, acquired from the vendor NTI Connect-ED, complements the communication tools the University already has in place to respond to a range of emergencies that may include weather-related closings, environmental health crises, public safety incidents and other unique emergency situations. In the event of an actual emergency, the University will continue to relay critical information using the most appropriate options from a full range of notification resources, such as: Web announcements, e-mail, an automated message line, the new Tiger TV emergency alert system, local radio stations, door-to-door notifications and posters.
Answers to frequently asked questions about the University's emergency notification system are available on the University's Emergency Guidelines for the Campus Community Web page.