Emergency notification test completed

May 11, 2007 5:59 p.m.

Princeton conducted a campus-wide test of its new emergency notification system on Friday, May 11, and officials were encouraged that 87 percent of the campus community -- or almost 10,200 individuals -- who were in the new system received a test message via live phone delivery or answering machine within an hour. Most of the calls were received within 20 minutes.

The test assured University administrators that they can rely on the Connect-ED system as an effective tool to notify the campus quickly about possible emergency situations using multiple points of contact, said Garth Walters, head of the University's Emergency Preparedness Task Force.

During the Connect-ED test, which was initiated at 12:58 p.m., the University made 14,591 calls to cell phones and landline phones, and also sent 14,000 e-mails and 896 text messages. 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.

"This initial test of a brand new notification system gave us an excellent opportunity to learn about its range and flexibility as an emergency communication tool," said Walters, also the director of the University's Office of Environmental Health and Safety. "Pushing information out to, in many cases, multiple phone numbers for almost 12,000 people in a short time is not a trivial task, and we were pleased with the result. The data we collected reflect a commitment from members of our community to work with us in our efforts to enhance our ability to reach them in a crisis."

Walters said the next step will be to review the test results to ensure the emergency notification system operates at its optimal levels of performance in an emergency. This will include reviewing reasons for delivery errors.

Out of the 14,591 phone calls made to the multiple numbers that individuals provided, 86 percent, or 12,450 were delivered successfully. About half of the 2,141 unsuccessful phone deliveries were because the phone line was busy. Unsuccessful deliveries were also due to various other reasons, including 731 phones that were not answered and did not have voice mail and 189 other numbers that were not in service or not operable. Walters said the Connect-ED system can re-dial busy or unanswered numbers, but administrators opted not to continue dialing past the one-hour test.

A recorded voice made the following statement when calling phone numbers, and the same message appeared also in e-mail: "This is a test of the Princeton University emergency notification system. If this were an actual emergency, this message would provide instructions and direct you to resources for additional information. To repeat, this is a test of the Princeton University Emergency Notification System. Please do not respond. This concludes the test."

Individuals receiving SMS text messages on their cell phones received this text message: "This is a test of the Princeton Univ emergency notification system. End test."

Members of the University community should note that during a real emergency, an automated voice recording could be used to deliver the phone notifications.

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 through the Connect-ED system. Nearly 11,700 of the approximately 12,000 people in the University's student and employee databases -- including 4,611 out of 4,761 undergraduate students and 1,462 out of 2,010 graduate students -- had registered their personal contact information before Friday's test.

According to Robin Izzo, who managed the test for the Emergency Preparedness Task Force, efforts to notify people about the test and to encourage them to update their contact information proved successful. The number of text addresses in the Connect-ED system, for example, increased from fewer than 200 after the initial outreach efforts in April, to 896 as of Thursday, May 10.

"The efficacy of any notification system is only as strong as the data that individual members of the University community provide, and since we announced the launch of the system, thousands of students, faculty and staff have updated their contact information," Izzo said. "We hope to keep this momentum going through continued efforts to ensure that individuals keep their information up-to-date to make sure they receive timely communications during an emergency."  

The University is asking individuals who did not receive the test through any of their expected personal contact numbers or addresses first to verify that their information in the Student Course Online Registration Engine (SCORE) database or the Office of Human Resources self-service website is correct. If the information in the database appears to be correct and the test message was not received, individuals should e-mail emergenc@princeton.edu with a brief explanation of which contact numbers did not receive the test.

Those updating their information should note that the Connect-ED 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 or e-mail address, the system will not notify that person.

The Connect-ED tool, purchased in early April, 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.