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Concerns regarding HawkAlert

BY EMILY INMAN | NOVEMBER 18, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Monday night HawkAlert — which warned people of a person near the University of Iowa campus with a weapon posing a possible threat to people's safety — instructed recipients to stay in their rooms until further notice.

Numerous freshmen, parents who receive HawkAlerts, and those from very boring, rural Iowa towns were frightened by the late-night warning.

But after the suspect was found without a weapon around 30 miles away from the central campus, they discovered that their fear was unnecessary. Later, it was also discovered that the HawkAlerts were not sent out until an hour after Iowa City police received information about the suspect. Had the suspect been in the vicinity of campus with a weapon, a potentially dangerous situation could have arisen.

Many questioned the timeliness of the HawkAlert, but other aspects of the system require questioning and analysis, too.

First, what is the point in parents receiving HawkAlerts? If there is a tornado, what can parents who is 100 miles away do to protect their children? Also, in the event of a violent situation, what can parents do to ensure that their children aren't shot or stabbed? Such an alert will only worry parents, cause them to panic, and, most harmful to students, cause them to call every five seconds.

Second, what defines "campus"? The research facility in Coralville is a part of campus, but would a threat there pose the same threat to students in Van Allen? The intersection of Riverside and U.S. Highway 6 isn't a part of campus, so a violent person could be in the vicinity without students' knowledge. But if the violent person were a mile or two down on state Highway 1 near the Studio Arts Building, that would constitute a real campus threat.

Third, what's the definition of a violent situation, and how do you determine that it's a threat? Anyone could be carrying a concealed weapon while on campus without the knowledge of the UI police.

Anyone could pose danger to massive numbers of students at any time. It would be easy for any crazy person to pick out a random lecture hall and open fire. A HawkAlert wouldn't do those students any good. My freshman year, a drunk person fell through the lobby window at Mayflower and was ranting and raving because police were called — was that a violent situation? On the bus yesterday, a girl was harshly pushed so another girl could fit behind the yellow line. Was violence displayed then?

HawkAlerts for violent situations are too vague regarding location in relation to campus, the potential for threat, and the nature of the violence. These conditions need to be specified in order for students to understand the severity of a situation and how to appropriately respond.

The HawkAlert from Monday told students to remain in their rooms. But what about students who were on foot? If a violent situation was taking place on the Pentacrest, students would need to know that so they could take a different route to safety. The HawkAlert system is great for knowing about natural disasters, a fire, or a hazardous accident affecting bus routes, but it would only be beneficial in these situations if it's received in a timely manner.

The UI website states that the HawkAlert system shouldn't be relied upon for actual emergencies. However, it's intended to serve as a safety measure for students, faculty, and staff. The university either needs to do a serious overhaul regarding the information contained in HawkAlerts and their timeliness, or it needs to completely do away with the system, because, currently, it's not providing safety.


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