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UI officials confused on how HawkAlert records are kept

BY KRISTEN EAST | NOVEMBER 29, 2011 7:20 AM

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University of Iowa officials are apparently confused about how they track performance of HawkAlert — a system set up to warn students of danger which has been criticized for untimely warnings.

In an interview with The Daily Iowan Monday, UI President Sally Mason said she didn't know why records haven't been kept on the HawkAlert system.

"Well, I don't know," Mason said. "That is a good question to ask. I will certainly ask it. Well, again I will ask the question of why we don't, and if it would make sense to do it and keep a record."

The most recent HawkAlert was sent Nov. 14 when a man authorities said was potentially armed was reported near campus. The alert was sent out more than an hour after the initial report was made to Iowa City police.

Following that alert, UI spokesman Tom Moore told The Daily Iowan the UI does not keep records of HawkAlerts because there is no "operational need" to retain the data. However, UI police Associate Director David Visin said on Monday the agency has always been able to obtain the information if needed.

"There are no open records," Visin said. "We could always access the information, we just couldn't access it [at the UI police]."

Visin said he is in the process of obtaining copies of past HawkAlerts from Blackboard Connect, the company the UI works with send out mass HawkAlerts.

Steve Parrott, a UI public-relations specialist, said he's unsure how long obtaining the records from Blackboard will take, but UI police are seeking records beginning at the system's inception through the present.

Officials from Iowa's other regent universities said they keep public records for their respective alert systems.

Annette Hacker, the director of Iowa State University News Service, said the Critical Incident Response Team is one group among others that regularly discusses ISU Alert and other emergency-notification systems.

Hacker said ISU Alert is tested at least twice a year, and though the records are public, they are not posted on the Internet.

The ISU Alert has been issued 12 times in the last four years; five of those alerts were tests, Hacker said.

The University of Northern Iowa also keeps records and provides records of Crime Alerts on its website.

"It's important to have it out there so you can see what was said," said David Zarifis, the director of the UNI Department of Public Safety. "I certainly would keep it at least for reporting, not necessarily for public consumption. [Keeping records] is not required."

Mason said the UI issues two test alerts a year, and the program is reviewed often to determine where improvements can be made.

Though the UI has previously been criticized for a delay in the issuing of HawkAlerts, Mason has not yet met with officials on the HawkAlert team following the most recent warning.

"I haven't had a chance to sit down and speak with our safety and security folks at this point and what they are thinking in regard with HawkAlert," Mason said. "But I'm sure we'll make adjustments; we always do."

Mason said the UI is always looking for ways to improve.

"Getting a message out to more than 50,000 people in a very short time is a challenge, and the HawkAlert system is still the best system we have found thus far," she said. "But we're always looking at — is there a better way to do this? Is there a system that is being designed or developed that could do a better job than the HawkAlert system can?"


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