With Robberies on the Rise, WKU Uses Rave Alert to Help Boost Awareness & Keep the Campus Community Safe
Posted on Thursday, October 24, 2013 11:16 am, By MONICA SPEES – The Daily News
Since Western Kentucky University’s fall semester began Aug. 26, students, faculty and staff have received five text message alerts from the university. All were in regard to robberies, which have increased this semester.
Since about 2008, WKU has used the Rave Alert system to notify students and university faculty and staff about crime on or near campus as well as weather-related schedule changes, according to Bob Skipper, director of media relations for WKU. Although text alerts are the most efficient way to get important information out quickly, WKU also sends emails and puts the alerts on its website and social media outlets.
WKU’s most recent text alert went out Sunday night. The message informed recipients of a robbery in the 300 block of Adams Street, the fourth robbery this semester that has occurred on or near campus. The message indicated two black men had guns and mentioned a gray hoodie, black hat, red jacket and black pants. It did not specify which man was wearing which articles of clothing. The text said the men left in a white Nissan toward campus. No other texts followed.
During the fall 2012 semester, there were no reported robberies on or near campus, according to the WKU Police Department’s online Campus Crime Log.
Receiving the text messages is optional because some people still have to pay for individual texts, Skipper said. Students, faculty and staff sign up for or opt out of the text alerts on TopNet, the university’s primary information system that students can use to monitor their academic progress or register for classes, among other things.
Of the five messages students, faculty and staff have received this semester, two came in the same night, which means the second was a follow-up message with a better description of the suspects, Skipper said.
WKU has about 16,500 registered users on the Rave Alert system, Skipper said.
“It’s a quick way of disseminating urgent or emergency information to our campus,” Skipper said. “It’s something they need to know right now that’s going to affect them.”
With Rave Alert, Skipper said WKU can target specific audiences, such as students or faculty, but also specific locations, such as main campus or individual regional campuses.
Any weather-related alerts come from Skipper, while crime alerts come from WKU Police.
The campus police supervisor working at the time of an incident decides to send a text alert, according to an email from Skipper that quoted Capt. Dominic Ossello of Communication Staff Services at WKU Police.
Ossello said WKU Police has noticed a rise in armed robberies around campus during the past few weeks.
“Our purpose is to inform students of any dangers we see on or around campus,” Ossello said. “Although the Bowling Green Police Department is investigating these cases, and not the WKU Police Department, we have sent out texts to warn students to be careful and to contact the police if they see anything suspicious.”
Ossello said BGPD has notified WKU Police dispatchers of the last few incident calls, and then the shift supervisor decides if “the threat could pose a safety concern to campus.” Suspects near campus or traveling toward campus would be considered a threat, for example.
BGPD spokesman Officer Ronnie Ward said BGPD notifies all surrounding agencies of suspects, vehicles and other descriptions. However, it is then up to the agencies to decide what to do with the information, such as sending out text alerts.
Skipper said anything WKU can do to enhance safety is important, but that the university also has a legal obligation to students, faculty and staff.
“Part of our charge through the Clery Act of 1990 that mandates colleges and universities to provide information about crime on or near campus is to alert the campus when there’s something going on that might pose a danger or a threat,” Skipper said.
Dom Piedmonte of Bowling Green, a WKU junior majoring in vocal music education, said the text alerts are helpful, even though he signed up for them mainly to ease his parents’ minds.
“They wanted to make sure I felt safe on campus,” Piedmonte said.
Piedmonte said that whenever the texts specify where a suspect fled after the incident, he can change the route he’s on or avoid the area.
The only time Piedmonte has been disappointed in the Rave Alert system was when WKU sent out a text message during the spring semester about an earthquake that was later revealed to be test.
Piedmonte’s younger brother lives on campus. Because his brother sometimes walks to Piedmonte’s off-campus residence, Piedmonte said the text alerts help him keep his brother safe. If Piedmonte knows a crime has happened near where his brother is, he can contact his brother and tell him to stay inside.
“You don’t know what goes on on this campus when you’re a new kid,” Piedmonte said.