A Look at WIU’s Emergency Alert System

WIU’s Emergency Alert System (WEAS) has been around for almost five years; and it alerts thousands of students within a matter of minutes. Risk Manager William Oster, from the Office of the Vice President for Administrative Services (VPAS), explained how the system works.

The Emergency Alert System is designed so that all current students, faculty, and staff are alerted promptly about any emergency situation. An emergency is defined as “an immediate, imminent or ongoing threat,” such as a fire in a residence hall, a tornado, or a bomb threat. Oster explained the service that WIU uses is a web-based platform. WIU students must subscribe to the system through the Student/Alumni Records System (STARS). At the beginning of each semester, when accessing STARS, the WEAS screen appears and individuals then must review their contact information and confirm it before they can proceed into the selected screen.

Sending an alert is a simple process. Oster explained that a member of the VPAS staff accesses the password-protected WEAS system and tailors the message to the situation. The alert is then sent to the population affected by the situation at hand. For example, if there is a fire in Macomb, the alert would be sent to the entire Macomb campus, or if there was a closure of the WIU-Quad Cities campus due to a gas leak, the message may only be initiated for the QC campus community.

The first test of the Emergency Alert System was in January 2008. Oster explained prior to WIU purchasing the alert system, WIU relied on the WIU website, email, telephone calling trees, and regional media outlets, particularly radio and television, to alert the community of an emergency situation. “Regional media outlets were the means to get the information you needed. The University still relies on those methods in conjunction with WEAS, as well as social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter,” said Oster.

The most recent WEAS test was initiated November 1 (tests are held each semester). Whether it is an alert or a test, a report is generated. Oster and the VPAS staff can then determine the number of individuals reached through the alert or test.

“Roughly 70 out of 30,000 contacts were an invalid telephone number,” Oster explained. “If there’s an invalid email or telephone number, we follow up with those individuals. We want to ensure that the messages are reaching our intended populations, and I believe we are successful in achieving this goal by the various methods we use — from phone calls to text messages to emails to the University’s social media platforms,” Oster said.

If you want to learn more about the WIU Emergency Alert System page, visit http://www.wiu.edu/vpas/risk_management_and_emergency_preparedness/wiu_emergency_alert_system/ or contact Oster at WD-Oster@wiu.edu.

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