In the aftermath of 2007’s Virginia Tech tragedy, many U.S. campuses took a closer look at their emergency notification systems and realized they needed beefing up. At UC Irvine, zotAlerts – text messages that notify students, faculty and staff of natural disasters or other dangers – were being added to the mix of emergency notification tactics. Enter Brian Chrisman, radio system specialist in NACS and all-around “techie” who uses sophisticated electronic equipment to monitor more than 700 two-way radios used by police, housing and facilities management staff, and emergency responders.
“We had ways to communicate in emergencies, including e-mail, voice mail and the marquee signs on campus, but we wanted another tool, and nearly everyone has a cell phone,” Chrisman says. “We can even reach students on their way to campus and let them know if they should stay away.”
With his help, UCI recently upgraded its zotAlert system. Key among its advantages is redundancy, Chrisman says. The current system has multiple data centers around the country that kick in if others are incapacitated.
UCI’s system has been tested several times. In January, zotAlert subscribers received a text warning and subsequent all-clear message on their cell phones after a residence hall armed robbery and more recently, they were notified of a campus sexual assault.
Chrisman’s work sometimes takes an unusual twist, when radio communications veer too far from official campus business.
“The language gets to be, er, colorful, or someone may use the radio to broadcast their favorite songs,” says Chrisman, who can hear the chatter from a receiver in his office. “Occasionally I have to remind people or their supervisors that they’re tying up resources that may be needed for communications.”
“That’s my job – to keep the lines open in case of emergencies.”