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Sexual assaults usually don't warrant Hawk Alerts, UI officials say

BY BETH BRATSOS | JANUARY 26, 2012 7:20 AM

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The University says the Hawk Alert system is used in cases of "tornadoes, violence, hazardous material incidents, etc.," but the protocol lacks specifics on what might pose as an "imminent threat".

Hawk Alert is the UI's system of notifying the campus of emergencies.

UI spokesman Tom Moore said Wednesday that while a sexual assault is a violent incident, it is not generally thought of as posing a potential immediate threat to others. It is usually not an emergency that affects the entire community.

He said in the case of a recently reported sexual assault near the Becker Communications Studies Building, university police canvassed the area of the alleged incident and did not find any evidence of imminent threat.

"If, by issuing a Hawk Alert, [students] would be able to take action to reduce their risk of being injured or affected by the incident — [anything] that falls under that category would be the subject of a Hawk Alert," Moore said.

In place of a Hawk Alert, Moore said it is more common for a timely press release to be issued in cases of sexual assault.

Steve Pradarelli, director of the University News Services, said his department and the Department of Public Safety are the two groups that have access to Blackboard Connect, the service with which the UI works to send out Hawk Alerts.

Pradarelli said his office handles Hawk Alerts that deal with weather or class cancellations. But about a year ago, officials handed the responsibility of alerting the community about public safety emergencies to the UI Department of Public Safety.

Chuck Green, the director of Public Safety, said his department must decide whether a crime-related incident requires a warning on the university's website or a full Hawk Alert.

"We use a Hawk Alert for emergency notifications," he said. "… when there's an impact that will affect the entire campus and it is immediate and happening at the moment."

He said the content of Hawk Alerts is very dependent on the incident and time and location may not be included. It is better to send less information than try to address an inaccuracy.

"We are so limited in number of characters we can put out," Green said. "It is not for updating, it is for the immediate concern. Because it is so immediate, people are assuming all information is accurate. We try to make it so people have accurate information at the time of the incident."

He said people are encouraged to go to the University website for more information on incidents when they occur.

Annette Hacker, director of Iowa State University News Service, said ISU has also never issued an alert for a sexual assault. But she said that does not mean officials would not release a notification if the incident was imminent.


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