CU campus to test text-message alert system: ‘pig flu gonna get u’

The University of Colorado plans to test its Campus Alert text-messaging system tomorrow, a system where subscribers receive official text messages from the university in case of rapidly developing dangers and campus shutdowns. University emergency management and police personnel as well as representatives of the Red Cross tomorrow will hand out material to students on campus safety, fire prevention and… swine flu. Swine flu?

The literature on swine flu, though, is apparently a side light to the text alert system test.

“Of course you wouldn’t use the text alert system for swine flu. A text message is designed for a large-scale confined emergency. The text is to let subscribers know certain things at certain times so they can take specific action. You wouldn’t use a text message to warn of a pandemic,” said CU spokesperson Bronson Hilliard. He said he has had to repeat this to student reporters several times in the last few days.

“Swine flu is just what people are concerned with this year,” said CU spokesperson Malinda Miller-Huey.

According to the Colorado Daily, four students tested positive for H1N1 swine flu in a random sample taken by state health officials earlier this month. Yet the university is planning to administer about 800 doses of swine flu vaccine per week beginning in mid October. And there is this prognostication on the popular pandemic:

Health officials said they expect to see another increase in the number of students with flu-like symptoms in a few months, when the weather gets colder and regular flu season begins.

Should students be worried about swine flu? Last year at this time, Boulder police were called to investigate six sexual assaults on or near campus, including an alleged Halloween-night gang rape.

“Sexual assaults fall under campus security. Sexually transmitted diseases under health services,” said Miller-Huey. None of this, of course, has anything to do with the campus text-message alert system.

CU started the alert system in 2007 and it ominously kick-started with a stabbing on campus.

“It was a minor incident, actually, but 6,000 people signed up for the service in 24 hours after that,” said Miller-Huey.

Now the system has 17,400 faculty, staff and student subscribers, which Miller-Huey said is 47 percent of the campus population, a high percentage.

There’s an art to text alerting. Some campuses have overused the system, says Miller-Huey, and people tune out or get annoyed. She agrees you don’t want to be sending out messages at 5:30 in the morning every time it snows in Colorado, for example.

“We’ve used the system only four times in two years,” said Hilliard. “Once was the stabbing. Once for a power outage, and twice for weather.”

“Here’s what the system is for,” says Hilliard, speaking slowly. “Acute dangers. Violence. Terror. Natural disaster. Not pandemics. Those happen over days, weeks, months. Say there is a shooter. You text where the shooter was sighted. ‘Stay away from doors and windows.’ You say where the threat is and what they need to do to be safe.”

He offers another slowly spoken example:

“There’s a tornado approaching from the southwest. Stay away from doors and windows.”

“We do a test of the system at the beginning of each semester,” he repeats.

A test text message alert will be sent out to subscribers tomorrow at noon.

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