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UI officials say Monday's HawkAlert was not delayed

BY KRISTEN EAST | NOVEMBER 16, 2011 7:20 AM

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University of Iowa officials said on Tuesday the HawkAlert system notifies students only in cases of real threats.

A HawkAlert was issued at 10:27 p.m. Monday night, warning of a possible armed suspect near campus. That was more than an hour after Iowa City police received the initial report.

Iowa City police Sgt. Denise Brotherton said the department was notified of a domestic dispute at 9:08 p.m. She said she was unsure what caused the delay in reporting to the UI.

But UI spokesman Tom Moore said the HawkAlert wasn't delayed.

According to a UI news release, UI police received information of a credible threat at 10:10 p.m. The first HawkAlert was issued at approximately 10:27, only 17 minutes after learning of the threat. UI police are responsible for issuing a HawkAlert.

Moore also said he did not know why it took so long for Iowa City police to report the incident to campus officials. UI police officials did not return calls seeking comment on the delay.

Moore said HawkAlerts are issued when someone or something threatens the UI community.

"The overriding criteria will be something that poses a threat to the health, safety, or well being of faculty, staff, and students," Moore said, and a HawkAlert can concern on-campus threats and natural disasters.

The suspect was located around 30 miles from the UI campus in Muscatine, and police did not find a weapon him. The incident has since been forwarded to Iowa City police's domestic-abuse investigator, Brotherton said.

Brittany Caplin, UI Student Government vice president and an employee of the University News Services, said deciding whether an issue warrants a HawkAlert is a "really difficult situation."

"[The UI] wants to get the alert out as soon as possible, but they don't want it to be a cry wolf situation," she said. "Of course, we want to know if there's a weapon involved as soon as possible, but you also want to make sure there's a real problem. We want to have the correct information."

David Zarifis, the director of public safety at the University of Northern Iowa, agreed with Caplin.

"There is always a time delay," Zarifis said. "You can be criticized for putting [the alert] out too early, too late, or not at all. I know that we always struggle with the timing of that and having the information at hand and making sure it's valid information."

Zarifis said decisions to send UNI Alerts are not taken lightly.

"You want to make sure you're applying [the alert] as necessary, and not crying wolf every time something happens," he said. "It comes to a point where people don't listen to it. We got to be very sure of what we put out there."

The only delayed warning UNI students have received recently was an instance several years ago after a potential gunman was reported on campus. Students received the alert 45 minutes after the initial report because UNI police wanted to determine where the gunman was and if the threat was legitimate, Zarafis said.

UI students have expressed discontent with the HawkAlert system in recent years. Most recently when an inmate patient escaped the UI Hospitals and Clinics in December 2010, students received a HawkAlert nearly 10 hours after the inmate's escape was reported.

Moore said he didn't know of any specific changes made to the HawkAlert system following the December 2010 incident.

Caplin said UISG will look into improving the HawkAlert system following Monday's alert. One of UISG's top priorities this year is promoting campus safety.

"We're absolutely going to look into it and see what we can do to meet with [UI police] and talk about what we can do to improve communication," Caplin said.


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