College changes emergency alert system after tsunami scare

Cloud-based emergency alerts are becoming commonplace on campuses.

Marymount College in Palo Verdes, Calif., has switched to a cloud-based emergency notification system after the campus’s old alert technology failed to warn students and faculty of a possible tsunami headed toward the school last spring.

Marymount officials said that the aging emergency notification system not only left the 800-student campus–located near the Port of Los Angeles–without timely warning, but school administrators weren’t able to contact the company in charge of the system as reports swirled of a tsunami off the California coast.

Denise Fessenbecker, the college’s director of general services, said customer service representatives who managed Marymount’s account with the emergency alert company didn’t respond to the school’s requests for six days after the tsunami threats first surfaced.

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“We tried to inform our students near the Port of Los Angeles that there was no danger to the tsunami, but the alerting service failed to function throughout the day,” Fessenbecker said.

The cloud computing-based emergency alert system, called e2Campus, has brought the small private school up to date with major universities that can transmit announcements and warnings from almost anywhere, including from smart phones connected to the web.

More than 800 colleges and universities use e2Campus, including Arizona State University (ASU) and Penn State University (PSU).

Like a host of cloud-based emergency alert systems, e2Campus can target warnings to where college students spend an inordinate amount of time: on Twitter and Facebook. The system also lets students and faculty members send tips about suspicious on-campus activity to Marymount administrators and campus police.

Using the system’s uConference feature, Marymount officials can arrange private phone conversations with specific groups of students or educators, relaying warnings and vital information as inclement weather approaches, for example.

e2Campus’s hotline tool ensures that students who call the emergency phone number won’t encounter a busy signal if there are too many people on the line, according to the company’s website.

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