UCSF Introduces Emergency WarnMe System to Help Safeguard Campus Community

By Lisa Cisneros

UCSF is offering faculty, staff, students, trainees and volunteers an opportunity to save their lives. By signing up to receive important warnings through a new mass communication alert system, the campus community will be able to know early on when the UCSF Police Department is aware of an emergency situation or disaster on or near campus. Beginning this week, UCSF will implement the WarnMe system –maintained by an outside firm, Wide Area Rapid Notification (WARN) – reflecting a national trend to inform members of a campus community as fast as possible about dangers or disasters, whether man-made or natural. Those who self-register in the WarnMe system will know, for example, whether an active shooter is on the loose on campus or whether a fire erupts in a building. All members of the UCSF community are strongly encouraged to self-register for these timely messages through the new WarnMe website. The WarnMe system can send messages to individuals via text or voice to as many as eight devices, such as work and personal email accounts, work phone, home phone, cell phone, text messaging devices, pagers, TTY devices (for the hearing-impaired) or fax machines. The system will be used only for emergency notifications and activation of specialized emergency response teams, such as those who report to the Emergency Operations Center, says UCSF Police Chief Pamela Roskowski. “Timely warning of an eminent life-threatening event is the single most important factor in saving lives in a mass disaster,” Roskowski says. “We are thrilled to bring this new technology to UCSF.” “The database has been loaded with 44,000 faculty, staff, student and affiliate contact information,” she adds. “We now need your help by adding your personal contact numbers so we have the best chance of reaching you in a mass emergency.” Importantly, the most advanced key encryption system available is used to provide access to the WARN system. Each user has his or her own user ID and password. Data entered into the system may never be sold or distributed in any fashion by WARN or UCSF.

Need for Timely Warnings

Following the April 16, 2007, massacre of 32 people at Virginia Tech, universities across the nation have been challenged to effectively assess their emergency response capabilities, including filling the essential need to provide timely warnings to potential victims of violence, explains Christopher Jones, associate director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management in the UCSF Police Department. “After Virginia Tech and the state of Virginia identified a set of recommendations in fall 2007, UCSF Police staff reviewed those recommendations and identified the current state of compliance with the recommendations at UCSF,” Jones says. “The ability to issue a prompt mass warning is paramount among the improvements needed and became the focus of subsequent review.” Senior Vice Chancellor Steve Barclay commissioned staff to assess UCSF capabilities to respond and provide timely mass notification during an “active shooter” scenario. A comprehensive emergency communications committee was convened, composed of representatives of UCSF Police, Capital Programs & Facilities Management, Public Affairs, Office of Research, and UCSF Medical Center. The committee reviewed an active shooter test scenario as a means to evaluate gaps in existing UCSF mass communication capabilities, including protocol, infrastructure and operations, researched potential solutions to resolve gaps, and made recommendations for specific improvements to strengthen the communication capabilities related to an active shooter event response and management. In February 2008, Chief Roskowski submitted a proposal to Barclay to fund recommended improvements, and the chancellor approved funding for the project in March 2008. UCSF also will buy and install electronic message boards that will be placed strategically around campus locations.

UC Campuses Adopt System

During winter and spring 2008, the UCSF Police Department’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Unit (HSEM) contacted other universities to see how they were addressing the issue of mass notification. UC Davis successfully implemented its mass notification system nine months after contracting with WARN. WARN is managed by GCI, a data, technology and communication provider managing web-based services and training for more than 140 companies, and operating continuously online since 1996, according to its website. Impressed with the WARN system and UC Davis’ success, UCSF – along with UC Santa Cruz, UC Berkeley and UC Merced – decided to contract with WARN. HSEM also recruited a mass notification system coordinator, John Racine, an emergency preparedness specialist. Due to the recent attacks against researchers at UC Santa Cruz, HSEM expedited the configuration of WARN, and by early September 2008, UCSF was capable of using WarnMe to notify UCSF researchers of threats against their homes or labs. Since then, HSEM has briefed representatives from across the campus about the WarnMe system. The system replaces the Send Word Now system employed to dispatch campus emergency responders. “The biggest challenge will be encouraging everyone to enter as many means of contacting them in an emergency as possible,” Jones says. “The important thing for everyone to understand is that in any large-scale emergency, one or more means of communication will fail. So the more you have, the greater the chances are you will get the warning that may save your life.” To motivate staff, faculty, students and affiliates to self-register, HSEM will hold drawings for prizes like the iPhone and Blackberry Storm to registrants randomly selected from updated profiles on the WarnMe system self-registration website.

Related Links:

WarnMe system

New Online Course Offers Safety Tips for Active Shooter Scenario
UCSF Today, Dec. 2, 2008

Learning How to Survive a Shooter on Campus/> UCSF Today, Aug. 26, 2008