Thursday, February 19, 2009

UGA's Efforts at Crisis Communications

Since the tragedy at Virginia Tech in 2007, UGA has implemented a new system (UGAAlert) to quickly notify students of any emergencies on campus.  Students can opt in to the service, which either sends a text message or calls in the event of an emergency.  Parents can also sign up for the service so they will be aware of what is going on at UGA.  For emergencies which require immediate communication (like the VT shooting, severe weather, etc.), this service seems like a great idea in theory.  I was really excited about it when it first started, and felt better just knowing something like this existed to keep me informed. 

However, over the years I've grown less and less impressed with UGAAlert.  The system is so unreliable that it really doesn't do much to reassure me of my safety.  Of course a complicated system like this is bound to have its quirks at the beginning, but sometimes I wonder if UGA is just wasting its time with this initiative.  

Personally, I signed up specifically for text messages because I wanted to be able to read what was going on in the event that I should be contacted during class.  Despite my preferences I set on the website, I still get phone calls.  That's the least of my complaints, though.  There have definitely been times I haven't gotten a notification at all, when my friends have.  

Last month, a message was accidentally sent to the entire UGA community which was actually intended for a small hazardous response team.  Starting at 5:45 a.m., I got several urgent phone calls and text messages referring to something I had no idea what it meant, of course causing quite a bit of panic.

Last night, when Athens-Clarke County was placed under a tornado warning, my parents (who live in Florida) got phone calls warning them of the situation, but my roommate never got the call.  She did, however, get a text message informing her when the warning was called off.

While I commend UGA for making an effort at communications in the case of a crisis, they clearly need to spend more time perfecting their technology.  A system like this is only effective if it is reliable, and more effort needs to be put into this important service.


  1. excellent summary of an interesting problem. As a UGA parent, I have been impressed with the effort, especially in light of the Virginia Tech shootings. I suppose its not something that you want to have to get very good at doing, but if you're going to do it, doing it right is better. It is unfortunate that there have been some failures in the system, but I truly think that the student body needs to make their thoughts known -- that they like and appreciate the effort to guard their safety, and would like to see the system improved so that there is confidence in its reliability. Hopefully this can be done before the next incoming freshman class so that students don't lose interest in continuing this program.

  2. I remember that false alarm last month...which is strange since I graduated over a year ago. I had the emails waiting for me when I woke up, and my parents got the 6am phone calls, since their house is the phone number on record. They were not pleased.