Most of the Duke community saw, heard alerts during emergency test

August 03, 2010 By Bryan Roth

About 10 a.m. July 21, the wail of sirens could be heard across Duke’s campus, but it did not reach everyone.
“I never heard the siren because I am in the basement of Duke South,” cited one individual who responded to the survey that was part of bi-annual test of the DukeALERT emergency notification system.

Many Duke community members reported being unable to clearly hear the sirens while indoors – which was part of the plan. The emergency sirens are designed primarily for notifying people outdoors.

That’s why people like Joy Searles, who works in Smith Warehouse, and others also received a DukeALERT e-mail and, if they enrolled in Duke’s service, a text message.

“I think it’s vital that Duke has this alert system,” said Searles, a staff assistant with the Global Education Office for Undergraduates. “Every campus in the country needs to have this.”

In addition to the outdoor warning system, an announcement was posted on Duke’s emergency website, During the main part of the test, the site received an average of 140 page views per minute. Duke also distributed more than 60,700 emails within about two minutes. Students and employees can ensure they receive e-mail notification by making sure their addresses are updated in Duke’s systems. Students can review and update their information through ACES, employees through the Duke@Work self-service website. 

As part of the test, Duke sent 5,575 text messages to mobile phones registered at the emergency site. Nearly 1,000 more members of the Duke community had signed up to receive text messages since the last test in October 2009, an increase of 20 percent.

John Dailey, chief of Duke Police, said all the technical systems involved with the test worked as they were supposed to, although a service outage from one local carrier delayed the delivery of some text messages.
“Duke officials are constantly working to refine our systems and educate the Duke community about how to best use DukeALERT,” Dailey said. “Safety is a shared responsibility, so we’re encouraged that so many employees and students take advantage of our emergency notification system through text messaging.”

About 2,200 members of the Duke community completed the online survey to assess the emergency notification test. Respondents said e-mail continues to be their most effective means of notification, with more than 90 percent receiving the test’s email notification. The outdoor warning system and text message followed with 34 percent and 30 percent, respectively. 

The survey also inquired about the notification process used in June when Duke received reports of an armed robbery suspect being pursued on campus. While most survey respondents said they appreciated the timely e-mail and text notification, some offered suggestions for improvement.
“People generally welcomed the messages Duke sent out during that incident, which went on for several hours,” said David Jarmul, associate vice president for News and Communication. “One thing we learned was that many people are going to turn to the emergency website even in cases like this that may not rise to the level of a full-scale emergency. In the future, we’ll be more likely to activate the emergency website and use it as a source of information along with Duke Today and our other means of communication.”

Searles said that the test reflected that Duke’s system is a fast and efficient way to get the word out about an immediate life-threatening emergency.

“Hopefully this will never have to be implemented, but if we do ever need it, it makes me feel much safer in my workplace,” she said. “I’m glad Duke has been so pro-active to keep its students, staff and faculty safe.”

Watch the Do-It-Yourself video to see how to receive DukeALERT text messages