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UI public safety official adresses Hawk Alert concerns to staff council

BY AUDREY DWYER | FEBRUARY 09, 2012 7:20 AM

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A top campus-safey official defended the university's HawkAlert system on Wednesday following complaints about the system's timeliness and usefulness this semester.

HawkAlerts are sometimes sent out much later than reported incidents because officials have to verify basic facts, Charles Green, the assistant vice president for the University of Iowa police, told a Staff Council meeting Wednesday. Staff Council President Michael Schueller said he invited Green to talk to the council about "how the system works specifically."

Green told the council members the system is intended to notify the campus in emergency situations that present threats to physical safety, including tornadoes, violence, and hazardous material incidents. HawkAlerts are disseminated to students faculty and staff through mobile phones, landlines, and emails, he said. Using the university's enterprise directory — which allows individuals to update their own contact information — officials can notify the entire campus of an emergency within 15 minutes.

However, recently, some have criticized the timliness of alerts. In November, officials issued a HawkAlert about an armed suspect on campus more than an hour after police received a call of a domestic dispute.

"It's a real challenge," Green said, "With an emergency alert there is less information and not much time."

Delays in the release of a HawkAlert is often due to authorities' need to verify information. If officers are notified of an emergency, they must determine if it poses any real danger to individuals on campus.

In the November HawkAlert, Green said, officials first thought the situation posed no danger to campus. But police then received a report that the suspect was headed toward campus.

The communication between dispatchers and police officials can be difficult, Green said. If officers are not sure about a given situation until they head to a location, they will often question whether or not to issue an alert, Green explained

Still, Green said officials strive to provide a small amount of information, even if they are not completely sure the campus faces real danger.

"You expect it to be accurate," Green said. "That's the problem we are having. We, meaning all universities nationwide."

Green also addressed concerns that alerts are not specific enough.

At the meeting, Julie Sexton, a human-resources representative with Student Health Service, asked Green if an event happened on Oakdale Campus or nearby areas, would people on the campus be notified of the alerts.

Green said they would and explained public-safety officials hope to better pinpoint where the danger may occur and determine if an alert should be sent out.

"There will always be some gaps," he said.

Green said he is working on improvements to the system with individuals such as Dave Wilson of Johnson County Homeland Security & Emergency Management Agency. He said those improvements may include a plan for Iowa's three regent universities to agree on a notification template to allow individuals at different locations around the state to receive an alert. Officials are also working on improvements to the HawkAlert website.


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