Hawk Alert effectiveness questioned

BY AMY SKARNULIS | JUNE 26, 2012 6:30 AM

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Several University of Iowa students reportedly did not receive the June 22 Hawk Alert, and UI police officials say inaccurate contact information could have led to the confusion.

Chuck Green, the assistant vice president for the UI police, said the Hawk Alert sent out in the early morning hours of June 22 was the first one in which he was notified of students not receiving it.

"I'm not sure why they didn't receive it," he said, noting that he had received only two emails from students expressing concern about not getting the alert. "I know there were a couple people who said they did not. I would advise [those] who did not receive one to go to the website."

UI police spoke with Information Technology Services and Green told The Daily Iowan if people did not get the alert and have their information updated, they should contact ITS officials themselves.

Iowa City police officials responded to a reported shooting late Thursday night; 30-year-old Donelle Lindsey was shot and pronounced dead after being transported to the UI Hospitals and Clinics.

Police will continue to search for the main suspect, 27-year-old Brandon Brown, until he is apprehended.

The University of Iowa sent out a Hawk Alert around 12:06 a.m. June 22 pertaining to the Petsel Place shooting, stating "the shooting occurred in the area of Melrose and Mormon Trek. Police are looking for armed subject. If you are in the area, remain indoors, don't confront suspect. Call 911 only if you have info or an emergency."

Some students said they did not receive alert, but they insisted their contact information is up-to-date.

Drew Barth — a UI senior living in Iowa City this summer — said that although he was not directly affected by not receiving the alert, he would like it to work on occasions such as school cancellations in the winter.

"My contact information is correct [in the system]," he said. "I've received Hawk Alerts before; this is the first one that I have not received."

One student who did not receive the alert said he was frustrated and concerned about the effectiveness of the program.

"I think it should be the UI or the officers in charge of [making sure it works]," UI senior Ryan Cooper said. "What's the point of having it if it's not working?"

Blackboard Connect, the service that powers the Hawk Alert system, said in a statement that UI officials sent more than 33,000 messages after the shooting incident, with a 91 percent delivery-success rate.

"The system performed as expected, and of the small percentage of contacts who did not receive the message, most were due to an outdated phone number or a phone line that did not pick up or go to voice mail. This serves as a timely reminder for all students and staff to make sure their contact information is up-to-date in the Blackboard Connect Hawk Alert system," the statement said.

Some students who did receive the alert Thursday said they were glad to have the information but wish they saw more information in the alerts.

"If there's a gun within a three-mile radius [of me], I'd like to know," UI graduate student Kathryn Noack said. "Sometimes, [the Hawk Alerts] are too vague to be helpful or very specific and inaccurate."

One regent university that also partners with Blackboard Connect to send out the alerts said it has not had many problems with the system.

"There can be a variety of reasons [students did not receive the alert]," said Robert Bowers, an associate director of public safety at Iowa State University. "Students can opt out of getting the alerts … for some students, the number they provide is back home that goes to mom and dad."

He said it could be as simple as people accidentally mixing up a couple digits of their phone numbers when signing up for the alerts.

"There are not large-scale circumstances, but here are individual reasons people may not get [the alert]," Bowers said.

Metro Editor Jordyn Reiland contributed to this story.

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