Do your part to make Carolina safe
By HOLDEN THORP
Published February 24, 2008
The Daily Tar Heel
Two Sundays ago, a bomb hoax frightened us all, especially those of you on the scene or evacuated from nearby buildings. Fortunately, it was just that - a hoax - and it didn't pose real danger to us. But it heightened the importance of being prepared and of communicating in an emergency - and it showed us some ways to improve how we let you know about developing events.
Our goal is to keep all of you safe. So please pay attention today when we conduct this semester's test of our emergency warning system.
If you're outside on or near campus between noon and 1 p.m., listen for the sirens. We sound the sirens only in the event of an armed and dangerous person, a major hazardous materials incident, a tornado sighting - or a test. Our sirens are our best, quickest way to inform you that you need to get inside and take cover immediately. Sirens communicate instantly, while it takes 10 to 20 minutes for a text message to be delivered to the 20,000+ people currently signed up for text messages.
Anytime the sirens sound, though, we will always send a text message and update alertcarolina.unc.edu. When the emergency is under control and it's safe to resume normal activities, the sirens will sound a second time with an all-clear message and an all-clear text will be sent.
These tests are important. Every time we test the system, we learn how to improve it. After the first test in 2007, we installed a fifth siren on the northern edge of campus. Last fall's test helped us improve our text message delivery times. No doubt, today's test will pinpoint ways to enhance the system.
Our Emergency Warning Committee constantly evaluates how we handle things and how we can improve. The Feb. 15 bomb threat did not meet our criteria for sounding the sirens. We did use an informational text message, alertcarolina.unc.edu, and campus TVs to provide information to the campus about the bomb threat, but our timing was not fast enough. We know that, and it has led to new protocols for improving communications.
While we have made some changes that will allow us to get information out faster next time, let me talk about the balance between how people want us to communicate and the realities we face.
We all want immediate information, but safety has to be our primary concern. Our public safety officers in the field have to take whatever actions are necessary to respond to the situation and protect the people whom they believe are directly at risk. Undoubtedly, communicating what's going on to the campus at large is important, but protecting people is more important.
Also, students on the scene will always know that an incident is under way - and faster than campus administration. It takes time for public safety authorities to respond to an emergency report, conduct an investigation, determine whether there is a threat, and communicate that to the Emergency Warning Committee.
So, with the exception of the three scenarios in which the sirens sound and communications begin immediately, our official notifications will almost always be slower than personal text messages, phone calls and face-to-face conversations started by those on the scene. That's the reality.
Campus safety is one of the most important conversations that our community can have together, and your feedback has been helpful. Please know that, just as you're listening closely to the sirens, we're listening closely to you.
(Holden Thorp is chancellor of the University.)Connect with Carolina