Public Safety: Emergency text alerts flawed but effective

Bryan Calabro; Phat Nguyen; Sarah Kennelly, contributed by Christine Lee, Managing Editor; Correspondents, News Editor

At 1:30 a.m. on Aug. 27, a male Wilkes student had his laptop stolen from him when he was using on a porch at 363 S. Franklin St. That same week, five Wilkes students were injured and sent to a nearby hospital after two separate incidents of assault by non-Wilkes students.

The assaults were believed to be the same in both assault instances. The assailants allegedly attacked the students after being expelled from an off-campus party at an apartment near Academy and South River streets.

Senior integrated media major Ethan Pidcock had no idea about these incidents because he did not receive a text alert. Instead, he was informed by his concerned parents.

“I didn’t get a message, and I thought I was signed up,” Pidcock said. “I’ve gotten alerts in the past, but didn’t know about the armed robbery on campus until my mom called me.”

Not all students missed the alerts. Junior pre-pharmacy major Sean Ryan said the text alerts are effective because of their convenience.

“It’s great not having to look up delays or cancellations,” Ryan said. “It’s also great to know what’s going on and what to look out for on our campus. It makes me feel good to know that our administration does something to let its students know when there is a crime.”

Wilkes Public Safety manager Jerry Rebo said emergency notifications were posted within the hour of the incident. However, some students who claimed they were signed up for alerts, did not receive any information.

Wilkes University utilizes E2Campus, an emergency notification system that alerts students and faculty of imminent dangers, such as a fire or criminal activity. It also notifies students if school is canceled due to severe weather.

The Beacon asked Rebo and Interim Director of Facilities John Pesta why messages might not have been received.

Pesta, who handles the text alert system, said students must renew their membership with E2Campus every two years. However, most students are likely to forget their user name and password, but these can be reset by emailing him at [email protected]

Rebo said the text alert process starts by contacting Student Affairs after an incident occurs. Upon verification with Paul Adams, dean of Student Affairs, the alert is sent.

Alerts are sent in three ways — text, email and flyer. All three methods are not required by law, but Wilkes always applies all three methods, Rebo said.

Pesta said alerts are only used for emergencies and breaking news. Petty crimes do not warrant alerts, he explained.

“It takes away from the mindset that this is important,” Pesta said. “We don’t want that to happen”

Another issue lies within an incident’s proximity to campus. Two off-campus incidents were reported.

On April 5, 2012, during Wilkes’ spring break, Crown Fried Chicken Chicken, a popular late night destination for students, was robbed. A text notification was not sent out.

The Beacon asked Rebo and Pesta if an alert would’ve been sent out regarding this incident happened after spring break.

Rebo said they were not obligated to report off-campus incidents and noted there is no mandated proximity for coverage required by law. His primary concern, however, remains with the students.

“A student’s well-being is public safety’s number one priority,” Rebo said. “If a student is in trouble, we will send someone to accompany them home.”

In addition, Pesta has since considered sending out alerts regarding crime surrounding areas such as Academy Street and Crown Fried Chicken after learning of its popularity with students.

On Nov. 16, 2011, the Dollar General on the corner of South Main Street and West Ross Street was robbed by an alleged armed man. A notification was sent out immediately, but the incident was of low risk to students, Rebo said.

“It was doubtful that the campus community was in any danger,” Rebo said of the thief who allegedly got away in a car after taking off with pair of Tonka toy trucks and money from the register.

A similar robbery took place the day before, at the Family Dollar also on South Main Street.
Following reports of the Dollar General robbery, Public Safety sent a mass email to Wilkes students and staff.

The message informed recipients of the situation and warned them to call 911 if they were to see the man. A similar emergency notification text message was also issued.

Regardless of these off-campus incidents, Rebo said crime is not an issue, since Wilkes has a lit-campus and always has officers on patrol.

“Thank God we don’t see many criminals walking around campus, or in our buildings,” Rebo said. “We might have a homeless guy sometimes, but I am talking about drug dealers, thieves and people like that. I don’t know if there’s an invisible fence, but I’d like to say it’s because of our patrol. You see us out there all the time.”

Public Safety’s patrol duties include checking campus buildings and facilities.

“We don’t stand on street corners because there are buildings on campus with millions of dollars of equipment in them,” Rebo said.

Alert notifications must disclose information about crime on campus because of the Clery Act — named after Jeanne Clery, a student who was raped and murdered in 1986 at Lehigh University. The act was created specifically to promote crime awareness throughout the campus community.

It requires institutions to give timely warnings of crimes that represent a threat to the safety of students or employees. Institutions are required to publish their policies regarding timely warnings in their Annual Campus Security Report due Oct. 1 each year.

Before 2004, Public Safety had to manually set up flyers and send alerts through email, but now they have an easy way to reach out to students digitally. Since switching to E2Campus, Wilkes has been able to provide timely information to our university community as a whole.

In order to subscribe to the services, you must have a Wilkes Email Account. Users can subscribe at wilkes.edu/pages/2611.asp

Awareness is part of the prevention, Rebo said. While students can get used to always feeling safe, they should be aware of their surroundings.

“A lot of students think, it won’t happen to me, but there are bad people out there,” Rebo said. “There is crime everywhere you go. Let’s face it. You gotta deal with it.”

Public Safety is advising students to be aware of their surroundings and to take reasonable precautions to protect themselves.