Merced College offers free text safety alert service

yamaro@mercedsunstar.comSeptember 11, 2012 

— Merced College has implemented a new emergency alert system to help increase safety on campus.

The system is widely used by other colleges throughout the state. Bringing it to Merced College is the latest effort to enhance safety on campus, said Frank Swiggart, director of law enforcement at the college.

Called the Alert U Emergency Text Messaging System, it allows students, faculty, staff and people who live in the campus area to subscribe to the service. It lets them receive text messages about emergencies on campus. The service is free, but users' standard messaging rates may apply.

"This is kind of a way of informing people," Swiggart said. "We can tell them when something is happening."

If there were an gunman on campus, officials would be able to notify the campus community of the situation and warn students who might be at home to stay away, Swiggart said.

In certain situations, officials would be able to have a dialogue with subscribers.

For example, students would be able to reply to alerts, sending information about sightings of a gunman, Swiggart said.

Officials remain able to issue mass notifications through 16 loudspeakers located around the campus, Swiggart said. However, people inside a building might not be able to hear these messages.

"It's a good backup system for those who are indoors or off campus," he said.

Officials can use the system whenever there's a power outage or when the college has to be closed. Swiggart said officials hope that they never have to use it for a situation as serious as an armed assailant on campus, but it's a good tool to have.

Merced College will pay a flat rate of $7,500 a year to provide the service to students and the nearby community, he said. So far, 261 people have subscribed to it. "We're hoping to increase that," he said.

The system has the potential to save lives, money, and time, and keep people away from dangerous situations, Swiggart said.

The college has other safety measures in place, such as eight blue-light stations on campus that allow people to press one button for information or another button in an emergency, Swiggart said.

There are also panic buttons in certain locations, such as in the financial aid office, where there someone could get angry and put people in danger.

"We try to train our staff and faculty to use the panic button accordingly for emergencies," he said. "That first response can mean a whole lot of difference in how things turn out."

The college has 42 surveillance cameras on campus and officers are able to monitor them at the campus Police Department.

Jamie Moua, a secretary with the Police Department, said that every call the agency gets is logged daily. Those daily logs are used to put together year-to-date reports and monthly reports in an effort to monitor activity on campus.

The most updated year-to-date report goes through July 2012. It shows that the highest number of cases -- 2,400 -- were issued over parking violations. Among some of the most serious cases were reports of 11 petty thefts and four grand thefts.

Officials don't want the college to be a place where students would be afraid to go to, Swiggart said. "Trying to maintain a good, safe environment is why we are out here," he said.

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482, or yamaro@mercedsunstar.com.


How to sign up

To subscribe to the service, visit http://www.mccd.edu and click on the “Signup today!” link under “Free emergency text message system.”

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