GPS Integration: The Next Step for SMS Text Alerts?

During a severe weather emergency, campuses with SMS text alert systems must send an alert to everyone in their database, whether or not those recipients are in a danger area. Technology under development could change that.

Let’s say the National Weather Service issues a tornado warning in Wichita, Kansas. Fortunately, it is spring break, so many students, faculty and staff are not on the local campus and not in danger. In fact, many of them are not even in the state because they are on vacation.

Unfortunately, if your institution has an SMS text alert system, your campus public safety office would need to send the tornado warning alert to everyone in your database, despite the fact that many of the message recipients are not in harm’s way. The result is warning fatigue and the degradation of the reputation of your campus emergency notification program.

Related Article: Navigating the Complexities of Emergency Notification Systems Integration

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could send the message only to individuals in a specific geographic location?

According to Mike Smith, a meteorologist and senior vice president of AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions, in the next two years GPS-enabled smart phones will allow campus public safety officials to issue these types of geographically-specific SMS text alerts.

“Right now it’s still more of an experiment, but I believe the adoption will occur relatively quickly,” he says.

Andrew Altizer, director of emergency preparedness for Georgia Tech, likes the idea.

Related Article: 27 Emergency Notification Best Practices

“I’m excited about there being a way to put a polygon around a specific area during a specific time and then having the ability to send out emergency alerts to people inside that area,” he says. “This would be a nice feature for special events like football games.”

One obstacle to implementing this idea, however, is that GPS generally doesn’t work well inside buildings.

Until manufacturers address this issue and GPS becomes integrated into SMS alerting platforms, campuses can achieve granularity by segmenting their databases. For example, starting in January, Florida State University (FSU) will be changing its opt-out registration process for SMS text alerting.

“They will be able to choose the campuses they want to receive alerts for,” says FSU Emergency Management Coordinator Dave Bujak. “Up until then, everyone is in one pot. You’re either in the system, or you are not.”

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About the Author

Robin Hattersley Gray

Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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