New emergency texting

The new emergency text messaging system is much more powerful than Skyline's former system. (Kevin Ebeirsole and Kelley Verhage)

The new emergency text messaging system is much more powerful than Skyline's former system. (Kevin Ebeirsole and Kelley Verhage)

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The Skyline College emergency texting system has received a major update following the technical difficulties that occurred during the recent campus shooting, according to Victoria Marrow, president of Skyline College.

The new system is known as AlertU. The AlertU system is already in use at several other colleges and universities, such as City College of San Francisco, Napa Valley Community College District, and Los Angeles Community College District. The new AlertU system is replacing a system developed in 2007 by Skyline College’s Information Technology Services department. While the ITS system worked well for the most part, it had several issues which inspired Skyline administration to seek an alternative. The most prominent problem with the former system was its speed, or lack thereof.

“Although the system did send out messages, some people did not receive the messages in a timely manner,” said Erik Raznick from the Information Technology Services department. During the Sept. 2 shooting at Skyline, some students received the text messages, alerting them in a timely manner, but many received the text hours and even days after the fact.

The former system was designed, programmed and maintained by our own ITS department here at Skyline College. On the other hand, AlertU is a service provided by Waterfall Mobile, a software company based in San Francisco.

The AlertU system can send out text messages much faster than the former system. AlertU is designed to send as many as 10,000 messages in 5 minutes; much faster than what the ITS system was capable of. AlertU will only be used in emergency situations and it will not be used for non-emergency updates or general information.

One new feature that the AlertU system has that the former did not is the ability to add non-students to the registry. Former students, parents, law enforcement, or anyone else concerned with the safety of the campus can sign up to receive alerts in case of an emergency.

Marrow strongly recommended that every student and staff member with a text messaging-enabled phone register with the service. On the Skyline website, there’s a section for those signing-up for the service to add their cell phone number to the Skyline College registry. After adding their number, they will receive a text message confirming their request to register. The user needs to reply with a message consisting of only the letter “Y” for yes, and then that user will be officially added to the emergency text messaging system. Depending on your mobile phone plan, you may be charged a nominal amount when you receive a text message.

Students who enrolled in a class this fall have already had their numbers added to the system and are registered to receive text messages in case of an emergency.

The AlertU website says that AlertU is supported by all major carriers: Alltel, AT&T, Boost Mobile, Cellular One, Nextel, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular and Verizon. Small regional carriers, pre-paid phones and mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) often do not support short code access. AlertU promises that registered users will not receive any kind of spam mail.

“Subscriber information is only accessible to campus administrators and not shared with any Waterfall Mobile business partners or third party marketers. AlertU strictly follows the Mobile Marketing Association guidelines safeguarding subscribers from spam.”—–Those interested in registering for Skyline’s new emergency texting system can go to http://www.smccd.edu/alertu for more information.