eLion Serves as conduit to Student Emergency Contact Information

When students log on to eLion, they usually have several roads to navigate on their information travels. They can cruise over to pay tuition, detour to register for courses or even stop off to check grades. Starting this Fall 2007 semester, students logging on to eLion will first encounter a stop sign.

"When the students log on, they will be prompted to enter their emergency contact information. They must either confirm that the existing information is correct or update it before they are allowed to proceed," said Karen Schultz, University Registrar.

For years, Penn State has collected emergency contact information from students on a voluntary basis. Staff experts in emergency management at Penn State have recently recommended that the information should be collected from all students on a mandatory basis.

"The University's responsibilities in crisis management situations has caused us to re-think our approach. eLion was the obvious best place to collect this information, since virtually all students use eLion at some point in the semester," Schultz said. "We've designed the screen to be very easy to use and quick to complete. In addition, we tested the screen with students to ensure its usability. All student testers found it simple and self-explanatory."

Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Philip Burlingame said the information helps in two ways. "We will ask students for a local emergency contact so we know how to reach students at a local address and, if the need ever arises, to contact them via a text message. Of course not all students carry cellular phones and not all of those phones have text messaging capability," he said.

"Second, we will collect emergency information from students and ask them to tell us who they wish to contact in case they are not able to contact a friend, family member or next of kin."

For those who would be anxious about providing such personal information, Burlingame offers assurance. "All of the information is being collected and maintained by the University's Information Technology Services experts on data security. This information will not be used for routine communications with students. We hope to have this information available to help us protect the safety of all students at participating campuses in the event of a real emergency," he said.

That fact is welcomed by the Penn State University Police Department.

"First and foremost," explained Stephen Shelow, Penn State Police Chief, "the University will benefit significantly by having access to the database by being able to send messages to all students during emergencies or potential emergencies on campus and provide them with timely information regarding that emergency."

"Additionally, members of the University Police would use the database for the purposes of making contact with students and their families in times of crisis or when there is a specific emergency involving that student. For example, we might refer to the database when contacting a student's family if he or she were involved in a critical incident or emergency."

Eventually, Burlingame said, the University is hoping to be able to integrate this information directly into the cell phone carrier that provides service to PSUTXT, the groundbreaking emergency text messaging system Penn State has implemented in the past year. He reminds students and families to register for the free emergency text service during the school year.

Looking forward, the University is well aware that students can be transient during their four years of college. For that reason, Penn State will require students to conduct a periodic update of their emergency contact information.

"Students will be required, approximately every six months, to review/update their contact information," said Schultz. "This will ensure that Penn State always has up-to-date information in the event that we need to use it."

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Last Updated March 19, 2009