December 6, 2016

University stresses use of alert system

Webster Alerts sent emails and text messages to all students and faculty enrolled in the service Sept. 25 at 10:13 a.m.

“Advisory: At approximately 9 a.m. on Sept. 25 Webster Groves Police Department reported a shooting near the intersection of Big Bend Road and Elm Avenue in Webster Groves. Police are actively investigating. Webster University’s Public Safety reports no imminent threats to the University campus; however you are encouraged to be vigilant.”

The incident in Webster Groves that morning turned out to be a false alarm in a domestic disturbance call. Fox 2 News reported despite early rumors of a weapon being discharged, both the suspect and victim told Webster Groves Police no weapon was present during the altercation.

Patrick Giblin, Director of Public Relations at Webster, said they had to be very careful with the message they communicated to students of the event.

“We were told very early on that it was a non-incident. And yet all this pandemonium was blowing up on Twitter,” Giblin said. “We sent out an email just letting people know. We chose not to send a text message because we felt that would have created more panic over something people shouldn’t be panicking about.”

The incident Sept. 25 is the third message sent by Webster Alerts in 2015. The other two messages were sent out Feb. 16 regarding school closure due to weather, and May 9 to notify students of a rain plan for Commencement.

Webster University’s website lists Webster Alerts as the primary system set up to inform students of immediate concerns on or around campus.

The website states students who sign up for Webster Alerts provide their emails and phone numbers and receive valuable information concerning a range of incidents affecting students – from weather-related campus closures, class delays and cancellations; to more serious or life-threatening events – are immediately and simultaneously delivered through multiple communication channels.

Giblin said the importance of students being enrolled in Webster Alerts cannot be stressed enough.

“You create an account and just forget about it,” Giblin said. “The students need to get into Webster Alerts at least once a year and make sure that information is updated. And that they have put in ways for us to communicate with them in multiple fashions.”

Christine Eason, the Associate Director of Communications at Webster, said the administration follows specific protocols when considering use of the Webster Alerts system.

“In the communication area, we take communication [with students] very seriously,”  Eason said. “Something to consider are Clery communications. A legal communication that must be communicated [to students]. Because that’s what we handle with the alert system.”

Clery communications are the legal requirements included in the Jeanne Clery Act of 1990. The Clery Center website states all universities receiving federal funding must outline specific policies and procedures within their annual security reports, including those related to disseminating timely warnings and emergency notifications.

Subsections of the Clery Act outline the stipulations of what events warrant the use of the text alert system. One of these stipulations is the confirmation with police forces of a dangerous event in the community, or with Public Safety on campus.

Eason said the reasons the administration follows Clery guidelines for the Webster Alerts system is to ensure students are getting messages only when the need arises.

“What we experienced in Webster Groves [Sept. 25], was complete pandemonium that did not need to happen,” Eason said. “It was generated in social media by people who were irresponsible, communicating in that manner.”

Eason said the administration takes alerting students very seriously, and they try not to miscommunicate or drive panic and confusion when informing of serious events on campus.

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