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Ole Alert system keeps students in the know

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Communication would be key if there was ever an emergency situation at St. Olaf. That is why every St. Olaf student has been upload- ed into the Ole Alert system as of Oct. 20.

Ole Alert, purchased after the tragic events that occurred at Virginia Tech in 2007, is a renamed version of a software called e2Cam- pus. It allows the college to communicate rap- idly and effectively with its students, faculty and staff when an emergency occurs.

Prior to the recent changes, the system was an “opt-in” system, which means that each student had to register in order to receive alerts via text message.

“We had a hard time getting the com- munity [participation] above 30 percent,”

Vice President for Student Life Greg Kneser said.

Kneser noted that 30 percent was not a sig- nificant amount; if something happened, not everyone would hear about it.

“You don’t have to reach everybody,” Di- rector of Public Safety Fred Behr said. “But you do reach a tipping point where word of mouth spreads.”

Unfortunately, the Ole Alert system simply had not reached that tipping point to ensure the safety of everyone on campus. Now, the system is “opt-out,” meaning that everyone is automatically a part of the system, but a stu- dent may choose to remove him or herself. This has raised the number of people who will receive alerts to about 95 percent of the campus, which includes all of the students and about three quarters of the faculty and

staff.Kneser said that campus does not yet have the cell phone numbers of all faculty and staff, so they could not be uploaded to the Ole Alert system like the students. However, thanks to the diligence of the college’s administration, about 75 percent of St. Olaf ’s employees have opted into the system so that they too will be notified if an emergency occurs on campus.

This decision was not made overnight. In fact, Kneser said that it has been in the works for a little over a year.

“We said ‘enough of this…let’s just do it,’” Kneser said.

The decision was finally made to enroll all students in Ole Alert, and the wheels were put into motion.

“IT cleared their priority deck and Dan Beach has been really terrific,” Kneser said.

He noted that it was really a college-wide de- cision and thus a college-wide effort.

“This was not necessarily an initiative of the President’s [Leadership] Team,” Kneser said. “There were a lot of people [involved].”

Kneser said that many different parts of campus were a part of the initiative, includ- ing the President’s Leadership Team, Public Safety, Marketing and Communications, IT and Student Life.

Behr is also pleased that such a large swath of campus is now included in Ole Alert. He said that the college has put an emphasis on security recently.

“When we are remodeling a building, we’ve got a little bit more of a safety and security thought process,” Behr said. He mentioned that the college has taken several steps to improve safety and security on campus, one of which is the recent updates to Ole Alert. He listed things such as additional campus lighting, CCTV cameras and card access for doors into residence halls and academic buildings.

Behr said that Ole Alert is “part and parcel to a whole response program.” For example, Behr said that the college is “adding more card access on campus to give us the ability to control our access points more.”

“We are moving in that direction and we are making good progress,” he said.

Both Behr and Kneser were adamant that Ole Alert would only be used in an emergency. Alerts would only be sent out when absolutely necessary, and not for events like classes changing.

“We don’t abuse it. We use it strictly for what it was designed for,” Behr said. “I think there’s the misnomer out there that they’re going to get bombarded with text messages. That’s not the case.”

Echoing Director Behr’s assessment of what sorts of scenarios would warrant an Ole Alert, Vice President Kneser said that an alert would only be issued for emergency situations such as an active shooter, a chemical spill from the tweather events such as “the blizzard of the decade” or a tor- nado headed towards campus would be cause for an alert.

Another effort the college is making towards increasing security on campus is two training programs, the goals of which are to educate students, faculty and staff on what to do if there is an active shooter present on campus. The sessions will include a short video, discussion and time for questions and answers from a panel consisting of Kneser, Behr, Dean of Students Roz Eaton-Neeb, Director of Residence Life and Associate Dean of Students Pamela McDowell, Director of the Counseling Center Steve O’Neill and Northfield Chief of Police Monte Nelson. The programs will be on Monday, Nov. 18 and Monday, Nov. 23 at 7:00 p.m. in the Pause. All students, faculty and staff are encouraged to attend and participate in these sessions.