Southern Wesleyan U. Safeguards Campus With SMS Notification System

Southern Weslyan University (SWU) has joined forces with CallFire, a cloud telephony provider, to introduce “Emergency SMS Notifications,” a campus-wide text messaging system designed to help safeguard the school in the event of a crisis.

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CENTRAL, S.C. — Suddenly, for parents and students in every corner of the country, nothing is more important than ensuring campus safety.

That’s certainly the case at Southern Wesleyan University (SWU), a 106-year-old institution in South Carolina. SWU has joined forces with CallFire, a cloud telephony provider, to introduce “Emergency SMS Notifications,” a campus-wide text messaging system designed to help safeguard the school in the event of a crisis. The system makes sending important, potentially life-saving messages at critical times easy and affordable. Indeed, CallFire did it all for less than $100.

Located in the tornado-prone southeast, where roughly a dozen twisters hit each year, SWU needed an immediate, affordable and easy solution to communicate with all of its students, faculty and staff.

Notifying the SWU community of weather emergencies isn’t the new system’s only responsibility. Inspired by the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech, an addition to the federal Clery Act mandated that universities send notifications to their students and staff regarding an emergency of any kind. SWU approached CallFire to meet that requirement and to address concerns about the level of staffing needed to handle mass notifications. CallFire works with a number of states and municipalities to manage emergency notifications.

While CallFire recommended SMS text messaging as the most appropriate solution to instantly reach so many in the event of an emergency, the company also worked alongside SWU to comply with the Clery guidelines requiring that all recipients opt-in before receiving a message.

With several tornado threats during the 2012 fall semester, SWU sent out some five notices, all of which were successful. Of the university’s entire population — students, faculty and staff — more than half have opted to receive emergency messages, and that number continues to grow as word of the system spreads.

“CallFire was great to work with,” said Dr. Joseph Brockinton, SWU’s Vice President for Student Life. “The new system has helped us keep our costs down while providing us with the exact service we need to communicate quickly with our campus community. We are grateful for the company’s cooperation and performance.” Brockinton sent three tornado alerts himself, all with a 100 percent reception rate — a process that took just minutes.

In creating the system, CallFire came up with a unique keyword solution. First, SWU advised students and staff of the SMS service via emails, a weekly e-news publication and during weekly chapel services. Recipients who wanted to opt-in were then prompted to send a keyword text to a short code, with the option of unsubscribing at any time. Subscribers immediately received a “congratulations” feedback message confirming their subscription was successful.

“Southern Wesleyan’s experience demonstrates the power of text messaging to connect people and communities quickly and cost-effectively,” said Dinesh Ravishanker, CEO, CallFire. “The system is versatile, non-intrusive and cost-effective — and because it’s strictly opt-in, participants take these text messages seriously. The system is moving vital information, and the two-way exchange delivers both updates and peace of mind.”

On SWU’s behalf, CallFire now maintains a phone list of all opt-in participants. As an added benefit to the university, CallFire collects and troubleshoots any cellphone issues, should they arise, to guarantee subscribers’ inclusion in the alert service.

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