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Friday, May 14, 2021

Western alerts reach most students on campus


About 95 percent of Western students are signed up to receive Western Alerts with cell phones, making anything deemed worth an advisory at the fingertips of most of the campus, Director of Communications Paul Cocke said.

The notification sent by the Western Alert system on Friday, Feb. 12, regarding a person with a gun in a classroom, was deemed an advisory alert rather than an emergency alert by officials, Paul Cocke said.

The person was assessed by University Police as not having intent to harm. Therefore, they were not an imminent threat to health and safety for the campus, Cocke said. Cocke is the director of communications and marketing at Western.

“We [sent out the notification] because there was chatter on social media and media inquiries. We like to be transparent,” Cocke said. “When in doubt, we notify.”

The ultimate purpose of the Western Alert system is to communicate issues of concern regarding health and safety to the Western campus community, Cocke said.

Western freshman Natalie Cola said she thinks the Western Alert system is effective, as long as the alerts were detailed.

Cola said she wasn’t worried by the most recent advisory about a person with a gun on campus because the situation seemed to be handled pretty quickly.

“But when I was in [knitting club] today people were talking about it … People were pretty scared,” Cola said.

Cocke said only a couple of alerts are sent out a quarter.

Alert messages are created from templates created with the help of psychology professor David Sattler. With his students, Sattler created focus groups to test emergency message effectiveness. Students were able to give feedback on what messages worked for them and which messages were confusing, Cocke said.

Alerts are typically evaluated before being sent out. University Police as well as other university organizations may look at the alert.

Commenting about the detailed operational process could potentially pose security concerns for identified officials, Cocke said.

Alerts can be sent in less than a minute, he said.

Certain members of University Police, the office of communications and marketing, and the office of environmental health and safety are able to send Western Alerts.

Cocke said there is a lot of support on campus from students and teachers for Western Alerts.

The few complaints received for Western Alerts are for the test alerts sent out twice a year, Cocke said.

“The only other complaints we got were when we used to used Big Ole,” Cocke said. “It was either too loud or people didn’t hear it.”
The steam whistle was to alert students outside to seek more information. Big Ole is no longer used on Western’s campus because of outdoor speakers now used for Western Alerts.


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