Technical issues following Hawk Alert alarms community members


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Technical issues from an incomplete Hawk Alert left many in the University of Iowa community confused as they checked their phone or the UI website early Wednesday morning.

The UI released a Hawk Alert at approximately 12:36 a.m. with a message regarding an armed robbery on the north side of Iowa City. The alert reported that a tall, skinny black male with a bandana over his face allegedly attempted to rob two females.

Officials released the information in a text message and email Hawk Alert. However, the other forms of communication  — the tweet, the UI webpage alert, and the phone message — contained no real information. According to officials, the glitch was due to a technical problem.

UI spokesman Tom Moore, said that while the information was provided to the university community as quickly as officials learned of the information, he recognized the technical issue.

“We attempted to customize the notification by only sending email and texts,” he said. “We did not want to send phone calls, and due to an upgrade, that was unsuccessful.”

Those who read the erroneous tweet, website post, or phone message, saw a template message stating, “REPLACE THIS LINE: with activity/event, location, and (optional) recommended protective action. See e.uiowa.edu (More information).”

Moore said the UI will no longer attempt to customize messages but stressed the importance of students providing accurate and updated information for the program in order to receive the alert.

“It’s a learning process so there are circumstances that occur last night, and now we have this new information that we need to take into account moving forward,” he said.

The UI has had several issues with the system in the past few years. This summer, when a Hawk Alert was sent June 26 regarding a homicide near Petsel Place, several enrolled students did not receive the alert, and in April, an alert originally from February was inadvertently sent out again.

A 24-year-old graduate student at the UI, who requested anonymity, was one of the women approached by the attempted robber. She told The Daily Iowan she was sitting on the stoop in front of her residence when the suspect approached her and put a gun to her head. She said the Hawk Alert error was disappointing, but the overall system is important.

“I know that these things happen and [the error] should have probably been corrected more quickly,” she said. “I think it’s a pretty effective system.”

One student said although the text alert was informative, she would have liked to know more if she was out during the weekend.

“If it was 3 a.m. on a Friday, I might still be out, and I would want to know,” UI sophomore Diane Dutton said. “I wasn’t out last night but if I was I would want to know.”

Alison Kiss, executive director for the Clery Center for Security on Campus, said there are glitches in every system, and the UI handled in the best way it could. However, she said, after several reported issues with the program, this incident should prompt improvements.

“Does that mean the system should be checked? Absolutely. And I am sure that will be,” she said.

David Nance, safety expert and founder of the SABRE Law Enforcement Training Division, said the UI must look at its program and make the necessary changes immediately.

“If you are having issues, and if you are investing [in the program] and it’s not providing the service, it’s certainly something they should have someone fix the issue immediately,” he said.

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