Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

August 30, 2007

Emergency messaging system debuts

Faculty, staff and students now have one more way of keeping informed in case of an emergency at Pitt.

The University has contracted with Verizon Notification Services to provide free mass emergency messaging for University community members who choose to subscribe.

The emergency notification service is free, although subscribers are responsible for any per-call charges that may be levied by their phone or device providers, Jinx Walton, director of Pitt’s Computing Services and Systems Development said.

Subscribers may enter up to three contact numbers that would be dialed in case of an emergency at Pitt. However, so as not to have myriad calls to Pitt’s phone system in case of emergency, users will not be able to enter a University phone extension, Walton said, adding that the messaging service is not a stand-alone, but an additional component in Pitt’s multi-layered approach to emergency communication. The University also has the capacity to send emergency information via email, web postings and through individual buildings’ public address or voice-capable fire alarm systems, Walton said.

The service is intended mainly for mobile devices such as cell phones, pagers or personal digital assistants, Walton said.

Those wishing to use the service may subscribe by clicking on the emergency notification tab at the top of the page online. Additional information on the service is available at

Those wishing to receive the messages must opt into the service and must remember to keep their contact information current. Users will be able to make changes or unsubscribe using the page.

University Police Chief Timothy Delaney noted that all phone number information provided for use in case of emergency is securely maintained on campus. “They do not have your phone number and they will not have it,” he said of Verizon.

In addition to faculty, staff and students signing up, Delaney said he foresees students’ parents as likely users. Parents who are far away may hear news of an incident in Pittsburgh, but not know its proximity or effect on the University, he said. “It’s the benefit of peace of mind,” he said. The system permits University community members to designate another person’s number among the three allotted.

Delaney said he envisions the messages being useful not only at the start of an emergency, but also to update people throughout and to alert them when it’s over. He said the system can be used to alert all subscribers or, in cases where an emergency is limited to a specific building or area, just a subset of subscribers.

Decisions on when to use the notification service and whether to notify some or all the participants in the system rest on a group of decision makers that includes the police chief, the University’s emergency executive Executive Vice Chancellor Jerome Cochran, and, if the situation merits, the chancellor. “It’s not solely my decision,” Delaney said. “It’s a group decision.”

Plans had been in the works to implement a general purpose mass messaging service at Pitt when last April’s shootings at Virginia Tech prompted University officials to focus instead on implementing a messaging service strictly for emergency notification.

The University plans to send a test message to subscribers in a few months, and will continue to do so periodically, but CSSD is being sensitive not to overuse the notification, Walton said, adding that users will be notified when a test message is coming.

Delaney stressed that the University intends to be selective in its use of the service. “We don’t want to overuse it,” he said. “When [a message] comes, we want people to pay attention.”

Walton said the University also plans to launch separate messaging service options for non-emergency communications later in the year.

For now, Pitt officials are focusing on signing up subscribers for the emergency notification system.

Walton declined to release the cost of the system citing contractual reasons, saying only that the Verizon service is based on the size of the University and is “a reasonable cost.”

Walton said she would like to see 90 percent of the University community sign up for the notification. “Really, there is no service until you have the subscribers,” she said. “It won’t be useful to the police, University administrators or users unless they’re signed up for it.”

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 40 Issue 1

Leave a Reply