As police continue to investigate the cause of Monday’s scare, university officials are questioning the effectiveness of the alert system that triggered the lockdown.
On Monday afternoon, South Hall was shut down, evacuated and searched by UC police responding to inaccurate reports of a gunman on the sixth floor balcony. After an hour-long stint, police cleared the building and — without making an arrest — declared the emergency over. Yesterday, however, UCPD Sgt. Matt Bowman confirmed that several campus locations reported having contact on Tuesday with a suspicious individual.
According to Sgt. Bowman, since the man in question is part of an ongoing investigation, very little information could be released to the public as of press time.
“University police responded to numerous reports of a suspicious subject on campus today,” Bowman said. “In none of those instances was a weapon mentioned.”
Bowman said UCPD are confident that the campus is safe, although he encourages people to report suspicious instances or people to the police.
Throughout the ordeal, university and police officials sent out truncated text messages via UCSB’s alert system, UCSB Alert, a decision some officials are now questioning.
In a memo issued to the campus community yesterday, Associate Vice Chancellor of Administrative Services Ron Cortez acknowledged the glitches in the university’s alert system, assuring subscribers that they are ironing out the kinks with the primary security vendor, Cooper Notifications Roam Secure Alert Network.
Created in the wake of the Virginia Tech tragedy, UCSB Alert allows university officials to warn registered subscribers of emergency situation notifications by delivering updates and instructions in the form of e-mail and text messages. In all, approximately 10,000 students are signed up to receive cell phone alerts, and 30,000 e-mail addresses are on the mailing list.
Mark McGilvray, strategic planning and projects director for the Student Information Systems and Technology Dept., said that while the administration intended to send out two messages, the texts mistakenly arrived as seven separate notifications. These confusing alerts, he said, can be attributed to a lack of cohesion between different e-mail systems among the campus community.
“Different systems will deliver them at different speeds,” McGilvray said. “We sent out 120,000 e-mails in a period of minutes, so some systems would deliver the messages almost instantaneously. It would look like, to the receiver, that they were being processed out of order.”
According to Associate Vice Chancellor of Public Affairs Paul Desruisseaux, a meeting will be held early next week to discuss the pitfalls of the system and how it can be improved upon in future situations.
Despite Monday’s notification issues, Desruisseaux said messages are sent only after reasonable justification by the campus police department.
“We only send messages when there is clear and imminent danger we want students to be aware of,” he said. “We don’t intend for the alerts to be intrusive by doubling up or being cut in half.”
Despite the recent confusion, Cortez said UCSB Alert remains an effective way to reach campus during times of need.
“I support all the messages that went out,” Cortez said. “Unfortunately, there were some that got cut into several pieces, and that’s something that we have to fix. I don’t think that they were hastily sent out. We had a very serious situation on campus and it wasn’t until later on that we found out that things were all safe.”
Still, others think that revision, or at least a critical look, is needed to make the alert system useful. Clarity is a key component in handling an emergency and, McGilvray said, something that the gunman alerts were lacking.
“The messages were absolutely confusing,” he said. “As a matter of fact, it’s more frightening to get a message that you can’t read, especially if it’s an emergency and you’re not quite sure what it’s about. The vendor hasn’t figured out why they were sent that way, and we’re not very happy about it, but we’ll get to the bottom of it.”