National firm says UAHuntsville needs better alert system

By Elizabeth Gentle - bio | email

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - An independent review released Friday of UA-Huntsville's emergency alert and crisis communication capabilities.

It comes 3 1/2 months after the February shooting spree that left 3 people dead.

A national consulting firm found the school must make improvements to the way it notifies students, faculty and visitors of emergency situations.

They did a series of in-depth interviews with UA-Huntville administrators, faculty, staff and students.

The research and interviews took place during March and April.

Then, the firm compiled information and data into this 33 page report...that details observations and recommendations for improvement.

At 3:57 pm on February 12th..3 UA Huntsville faculty members were shot and killed, 3 others hurt.

At 4:50 pm a message was issued confirming the shooting, noting no danger and announcing closure of campus.

At 5:00 pm that same message was posted to the UA-Huntsville homepage.

At 5:30 pm a UAlert was sent out saying suspect in custody.

At 5:35 notice was placed on the schools web site that no students were involved.

2 hours after the shooting, an email was sent campus wide by the school's president.

The college turned to national consultant firm-James Lee Witt Associates of Washington DC--for an evaluation of its crisis communication systems during the shooting.

The firm found--at the time of the shooting:

No clear, officially adopted protocols existed for UAHuntsville's emergency notification process.

The vendor-hosted emergency alert system was not utilized to issue an immediate warning message during the shooting.

Only 2 individuals on the UAHuntsville campus have authority and are trained to issue an emergency message through the alert system.

Both are University police.

They found this caused a delay because both were responding to the scene.

Witt Associates also found individuals without access to electronic communication and visitors to campus have no access to alerts.

And a formal and officially adopted crisis communications plan for the campus does not yet exist.

Witt Associates says this independent study offers an opportunity for UA Huntsville to review its policy and procedures for future emergencies.

The University has taken numerous steps to improve the UAlert system.

More campus officials are now authorized to issue emergency alerts. Steps are being taken to improve emergency communications awareness and training.

Active steps are being taken to implement a more robust IT infrastructure capable of supporting increased web traffic.

The school is also installing public address systems in buildings.

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