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UCLA tests BruinAlert messaging

By Kimberly Young

Jan. 28, 2008 9:02 pm

Nearly 99 percent of students who signed up received a recent test of the new BruinAlert system, a new mass emergency communications system which will notify students by text message and e-mail in cases of emergency.

The test, held on Thursday, sent text messages to all students who signed up online.

Approximately 11,700 students signed up, and the test had a high success rate, but still only about 31 percent of the student population is signed up, said Jack Powazek, the assistant vice chancellor of general services.

The university is currently trying to get more students to sign up, he said.

Powazek said the system would only be used in situations that could affect the safety of students, such as a chemical spill, fire, earthquake or one that required police action.

The e-mail component of the system, for which every student is automatically signed up, was not tested because it has already been tested in the past, Powazek said.

Out of the 11,668 messages that were sent, 11,496 of the messages were successfully received, according to a university statement.

“Almost 99 percent of the messages arrived, which is almost perfect given the complexities of technology,” Powazek said. “We are working toward correcting the 1.5 percent, but are very happy with the result.”

Powazek said these text messages might not have gone through because of a variety of different reasons, including incorrect phone number or service provider, the phone not being able to receive text messages, or the inbox being full.

Though the original goal was to send all the text messages within 15 minutes, it took only about four, Powazek said.

Vishal Parikh, a third-year aerospace engineering student said because many students turn their phones off while they are in class, the school should set up some kind of alarm system or classroom telephones.

Many students said they are pleased with the success of the test, and support the school’s decision to use text messages in addition to other means of notifying students.

“A text messaging system is unobtrusive because everyone has a phone, and most can receive text messages. It is a problem for people who don’t receive texts though,” Parikh said.

Some students said the text messaging system was practical and could be used to alert students very quickly.

Alan Lewis, a third-year civil engineering student, said the system would help people react during and after an event, and help prevent mass hysteria.

Some students say they have not signed up because they were not sure what the program would actually do.

Phyllis Huang, a second-year neuroscience student, said she did not sign up for the program because she already receives too many e-mails, and she doesn’t have time to read them all in depth.

“A long time ago I got an e-mail about it and I wasn’t sure what it was,” she said.

She said now that she knows the school will actually use BruinAlert, she will probably sign up.

“I definitely think it’s a good idea, and friends can tell each other if they get a text message, and people will be aware of it,” she said.

Many students, despite the $132,000 it is predicted to cost the school, are in favor of the program.

“Safety is not something you should skimp money on,” Parikh said.

Some students have voiced concerns that the school could abuse the system and send text messages in cases that were not emergencies. Others said they trusted the program and did not think UCLA would send out an excess of messages.

Powazek said the university would be careful not to send out an excessive amount of e-mails, because they do not want students to start disregarding the messages.

“It is not going to be a system that will tell you the weather,” he said. “We are trying to save it for serious events and not overuse it, because we don’t want students to just ignore them.”

The text messages will tell students what is going on and what students should do in the case of an emergency, though there is a 160-character limit for text messages, Powazek said. They will be followed with a more detailed e-mail and possibly with additional text messages as the school gets more information, he added.

Powazek said in order to make sure there are no technical glitches during a real emergency, they will test the text-messaging system once a quarter.

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Kimberly Young
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