Emergency communications to increase as officials seek best methods

March 25, 2014

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Subscribers to Penn State's PSUTXT emergency messaging system may see an increase in the number of text and email alerts they receive in the coming months. In an effort to more closely match the guidelines of the federal Clery Act, police plan to issue all timely warnings via PSUTXT.

The Clery Act, a nationwide law related to campus safety, requires that a "timely warning" be sent to the University community to inform them of a reported crime that has occurred on campus or within a certain proximity of campus. The purpose of the timely warning is to let the community know of any ongoing threat. Each report of a crime or situation is evaluated by police on a case-by-case basis to determine if a threat still exists and if a warning should be issued.

"Text messaging is a fast, effective platform that is a critical piece of our emergency communications plans," said Steve Shelow, assistant vice president for Police and Public Safety at Penn State. "In addition to PSUTXT, we are pursuing options for the delivery of timely warnings and other emergency messages to all students, faculty and staff at their Penn State email address. To further strengthen our alignment with federal guidelines, we need systems that will reach as much of the campus community as possible, so that people can make informed decisions about their own safety."

Shelow explained that the nature of some criminal threats often is not limited to a single location, and a timely warning must be issued in a manner that will reach the entire campus community. For example, if a series of burglaries is occurring in one residence hall, this must be shared with the entire campus in case the burglar decides to strike another location at a later time.

There are some emergencies that are more localized, and a timely warning may not be needed if notifications are tailored exclusively to the segment of the campus at risk. An example would be a water main break in a specific building that requires evacuation of that building.

There are other reported situations where posting paper fliers in the immediate area are sufficient to alert that population.

University officials are now looking to add email alerts for the entire Penn State community as part of the range of options for all emergency notifications. In addition, officials also are re-evaluating the emergency communications platforms already in place to ensure that emergency communications are accessible in as many ways as feasible. 

Currently, there are 142,000 people signed up for PSUTXT, a service provided by an outside vendor. In the event of an emergency situation, the University community would be alerted through PSUTXT, which sends emergency notifications via text messaging and email. Those text messages also are published on Twitter at https://twitter.com/psutxt. Depending on the situation, information also may be posted to the University's news website at http://news.psu.edu/ and the main home page at http://www.psu.edu.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 27, 2014