WarnMe Alerts Are Crucial Because of Limited Campus Telephone System Capacity

Even though the UCSF WarnMe mass notification system has registered more than 20,000 UCSF phone numbers, it is unlikely that the campus telephone system will be able to deliver the warning to all desk phones in less than an hour, according to the UCSF Police Department.

That lag time in warnings may come too late during a campus crisis.

However, WarnMe can notify more than 60,000 cell phones by text message, voice or email within minutes, reports Christopher Jones, director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management in the UCSF Police Department.

Jones says that the WarnMe system is more important than ever, since the campus telephone system is limited as to the speed and volume of the calls it can send and receive.

Getting timely, accurate information is critical during a major disaster. To help ensure that the campus community is informed, UCSF Police in April began offering faculty, staff, students and trainees the opportunity to register up to eight devices for free in the WarnMe system.

But so far, participation in the voluntary self-registration through the WarnMe system, which will notify those who sign up when an emergency occurs, has been low.

Even though more than 40,000 students, faculty, staff and affiliates (alumni, contractor employees, volunteers, fellows or others issued a UCSF ID) are eligible to enroll, fewer than 2,000 have registered one or more means of contact, in addition to their UCSF phone and email as of July 1, reports Jones.

“The more phone, text and email addresses that you register in WarnMe, the greater the chances you will receive a warning that may save your life,” Jones points out.

“The WarnMe emergency notification system is for the UCSF community,” Jones says. “It is managed and administered with the utmost respect for your privacy and time. Its purpose is to send you a warning message that may save your life or help you find help in the aftermath of a disaster. But if the UCSF phone and email system is damaged or overloaded, it can’t warn you if you don’t register your alternate means of contact.”

During most emergencies, local phone lines rapidly become overloaded, and many callers will likely receive an “all circuits are busy” message. In fact, during most earthquakes, hurricanes and floods, many phone and Internet services can become damaged or fail.

And while people may not be able to make or receive a cell phone call during a major emergency, text messages and emails are still likely to work on text-enabled phones, Jones explains.

Importantly, the WarnMe system will only be used for imminent threats to the life or safety of members of the campus community.

Those who register with the system will be entered into a drawing for weekly prizes. See the list of prizes and prize winners on the FAQ page of the UCSF WarnMe website.

Dispelling False Assumptions

Informal discussions between members of the campus community and UCSF Emergency Management staff revealed that people hadn’t registered with WarnMe because of a number of false assumptions. Here are the top reasons and responses from Jones:

  • Some thought they would be spammed with campus announcements. Response: This will not happen.
  • Some thought it was only for an earthquake and figured they would know when one struck. Response: Wrong. WarnMe also will tell you to avoid an area of campus or to take shelter due to a hazardous material spill, or to run or hide because of an active shooter on campus, or, in the aftermath of an earthquake, where to go for shelter, first aid or emergency information.
  • Others thought their personal contact information would be used by other UCSF departments. Response: Wrong. What goes in WarnMe stays in WarnMe.
  • Some thought the information in WarnMe system wasn’t secure. Response: Wide Area Rapid Notification (WARN) data have the same security features as banking institutions.
  • Some figured that since their UCSF email and phone number were already in the system, their personal cell, text and email information wasn’t necessary. Response: Wrong. When you are away from your desk (at meetings, lunch, rest room, shuttle bus, in the hall), how are you going to get the warning?
  • Some people experienced technical problems registering with the WarnMe self-registration website. Response: Those problems have been fixed and it is much easier to register now.

For more information, visit the FAQ page of the UCSF WarnMe website  or send an email.

Related Link:

UCSF Introduces Emergency WarnMe System to Help Safeguard Campus Community
UCSF Today, April 16, 2009