Company claim: Emergency alerts get to students in 20 seconds

Higher education has seen a slew of delayed notifications since the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings that killed 32 people. School officials waited two hours to send emergency eMails on the day of the shootings, according to a report issued after an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education.

Almost an hour passed before University of Alabama faculty and students were alerted to a shooting that killed three last year. Delaware State University students went largely without notice when two students were shot near campus in 2007.

And students at the University of Utah in September 2009 didn’t receive text and eMail alerts until several hours after a severe storm hit the Salt Lake City campus.

While the RavenAlert system might prove more reliable than text messages, convincing students to carry the keychains – or the memory stick IntelliGuard will unveil later this year – could be a hurdle, especially as students increasingly use web-accessible smart phones capable of receiving eMail alerts.

“It’s small enough and unobtrusive enough to carry it” on backpacks or attached to a dormitory key, Pottle said.

Even if less than half of students on a campus carry the RavenAlert keychain, he said, the emergency message should spread quickly enough to warn the campus community of where a shooter might be, for example.

Koren Kanadanian, director of emergency management at Providence College in Rhode Island, said mass text messages to students and faculty are ideal for warnings of road closures or announcements of upcoming school events.

“But they weren’t designed to work in the way we use them for emergencies,” he said. “That has always been one of my big concerns. … If the line starts to get tied up, or if I need to do a quick follow-up message as things change, I want to do that without worrying about when people” will receive the alert.

Kanadanian said about 200 Providence College faculty members and students use the RavenAlert keychains. Campus officials hope to find a way to give keychains to every student next school year, he said.

Providence students pay $70 per keychain on the 3,900-student campus. Pottle said the device would cost about $30 at larger institutions.