November’s misfire of the new emergency alert system highlighted certain deficiencies within the system that will be re-evaluated later this month when the system undergoes a test.
This message will read “TEST – Georgia Tech Emergency Notification System Test Message,” and it will be sent out to those members of the Tech community registered to receive alerts via the Georgia Tech Emergency Notification System (GTENS) on Tuesday, January 29 between 11 a.m. and noon.
The test message will be sent through all GTENS outlets—text messages, automated voicemails, e-mail and webfeed on the Tech homepage.
The decision to test the system was made in response to the erroneous message sent out in November telling students to evacuate campus after a chemical explosion was reported in the ES&T building, as well as a general desire to work out problems within the system.
“GTENS is an important part of campus preparedness, and we must continually refine, update and test the system,” said Andy Altizer, Emergency Preparedness Director.
The most important goal of the test is to make sure that people who should be registered within the GTENS system are receiving the alerts.
In November, the GTENS server became backed up, as immediately after sending the longer evacuation message, the disregard message was sent. This caused some people to receive the messages in the wrong order, and others to receive either message multiple times.
The server has now been fixed so that a message can only be sent to each number once and erroneous messages can be canceled before they are sent, eliminating the need to send disregard messages in the future.
Many students who thought they were supposed to receive the alerts did not. The GTENS administrative team discovered that some phone carriers were incompatible with the system. This test will see if this problem has been fixed.
Others discovered that they were not actually signed up for the program. The upcoming test will be a way for students to make sure they are signed up for emergency alerts. While it is not mandatory for students to be signed up with GTENS, everyone is encouraged to go online and opt in to make the alerts effective.
“While we know that not everyone in the Tech community will sign up for these alerts, our hope is that a critical mass of campus will get them and disseminate the information so the whole campus can be reached” Altizer said.
The test message is also a way to evaluate the capacity of GTENS messages. Currently, the GTENS server can only handle messages shorter than 130 characters. This makes relaying pertinent information difficult.
“The constructive comments after the November GTENS incident led to an in-depth analysis of how messages are interpreted and how they can potentially be streamlined to convey specific information in a limited space,” said Anu Parvatiyar, undergraduate student body president.
The messages will now contain a link to an online blog that will contain up-to-date information on what is happening and how people on campus should respond.
The messages are intended to follow the “SMART” format: that is, contain Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented, Realistic, and Time Specific information. The messages are designed to be sent out if a specific action is desired by the receiver.
The emergency preparedness team hopes that as GTENS is improved, more alerts can be added within the next 30 days, such as an outdoor audio siren and campus TV alert feeds.
The GTENS committee also hopes to soon provide more options on the kind of alerts that may be sent, to include emergency weather and facility closing alerts.
“We’ve implemented a lot of changes to strengthen the system … it’s a priority, but it’s also a dynamic and changing process,” Altizer said.