Rave Alert at USF


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The University of South Florida (USF) has passed a year crowded with incidents involving public safety: a gas leak in a parking garage in April 2009 and the next day a bomb scare in a dorm, followed by a tornado weather warning two days later; a possible gun man in May; another bomb threat in June; potential gun men again in both June and July; and then, most recently, three reports of armed suspects on campus Oct. 5.

Through them all, campus staff has continually tweaked its use of emergency systems, deciding when and how various modes should be used, whether they should be used at all, and how to improve the process to keep the university’s community safe.

Emergency Notification Gear at USF
USF has four campuses; the main one in Tampa has about 30,000 students and 13,000 faculty and staff. It encompasses 247 buildings across 1,500 acres.

In 2002 the university first installed Rave Alert from Rave Wireless. This notification service, which forms the backbone of the emergency system, provides alerting through text, e-mail, voice, signage, public address systems, RSS, Facebook, instant messaging, and Twitter.

Registration for the service, which has been branded as MoBull (the university’s mascot being “Rocky D. Bull”), became mandatory for all students about two years ago, said Christopher Akin, associate director for IT. Akin helped to redesign the emergency system at that time to tie it into USF’s Banner student information system. Akin’s team and the Banner team wrote a script that runs when a student registers for classes each semester. “That says, ‘Hi! Here’s the cell phone we have for you,’” he explained. “Or, ‘We don’t have a cell phone number for you; please provide it. This is what it’s for, and here are our terms of use. Please agree to it.’”

Akin said faculty and staff registration into Rave Alert are optional. “But they do sign up for it through our HR system, which is [Oracle] PeopleSoft,” he added.

Before making the service mandatory for students, the university had about 10,000 registrants, including staff and faculty. After implementing the requirement, registration went to 50,000. He estimated that it currently holds contact information for about 55,000.

The university pays a flat fee per year for unlimited messaging. “We’ve really needed that,” he pointed out, “because we’ve had multiple incidents.”

During fall 2008, USF standardized on digital display content players from Visix after two departments—Health and the Marshal Center—selected equipment from the company for their environments. (The video displays themselves aren’t standardized.) According to a university Web page, USF set this standard to streamline integration with the emergency notification system. “Unless a standard is established, there will be many multiple system vendors, which will make utilization during emergencies much more difficult,” according to the site.

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