U. installs speakers for emergency messaging
New blue-light telephone towers located around campus are the latest addition to the University’s emergency communications system. The new towers not only allow for direct communication between members of the University community and the Department of Public Safety during an emergency but also include speakers that can broadcast emergency messages all over campus.
The additional emergency towers represent a move toward an emergency system that does not require members of the University community to own mobile devices to receive emergency notifications. While the Princeton Telephone & Email Notification System relied for years on cell phone numbers, dorm room landlines and email addresses to deliver emergency messages, the new system, which complements but does not replace PTENS, can broadcast messages directly.
“This system enables messages to be delivered to individuals who might be on campus or contractors or other individuals who may not be in PTENS,” University Spokesperson Martin Mbugua explained. He added that the towers first broadcast a “distinctive tone” followed by a recorded alert message and end with the same tone.
According to Mbugua, 14 new emergency towers have been placed on the University’s main campus. More of these have been installed in graduate housing and other University buildings. There are still four units pending installation.
The University will continue using PTENS to notify students of emergencies through alerts sent to their phones and email addresses. The PTENS system depends on the voluntary disclosure of cell phone numbers. Only 25 percent of undergraduates reported their cell phone numbers in 2007, according to an article in The Daily Princetonian published at the time. As of 2012, around 98 percent of undergraduates and 70 percent of graduate students have reported their numbers, according to Mbugua.
Meanwhile, OIT has just released its new Tiger Voice system earlier this month that allows a private University number to be forwarded to a student’s cell phone number.
The new broadcast towers also include blue-light phones, but the total number of these phones has actually been reduced on campus. A 2003 map of the blue-light phone system showed over 100 phones, most of which no longer exist. According to Mbugua, these were removed when the new towers were put in place during the summer.
The reduction in the number of blue-light phones and the addition of speaker towers make it seem as though the University is moving away from relying on cell phones to convey emergency messages, but the University is actually relying more on students' using cell phones to report emergencies or incidents to the University.
The University’s PTENS system was first created in April 2007 in the wake of the Virginia Tech shooting. The University bought a service called Connect-ED — renamed Blackboard Connect in 2010 — that allows for mass text messaging, emailing and calls to landlines and cell phones immediately.
“The recent events at Virginia Tech have shown that it’s especially important to have this type of mass emergency notification system that is capable of reaching our community members using several methodologies,” former Director of Public Safety Steven Healy said at the time.
While many other universities bought similar systems after the shooting, Princeton said at the time that it had actually bought Connect-ED two weeks before the incident.
The new broadcast system was tested by the University between Sept. 4 and Sept. 8 and will be tested again later in the fall when the system is completely installed.
“PTENS has been very effective and has worked very well; the University's ability to communicate emergency messages will be enhanced by this new system,” Mbugua said.