Emergency text service unreliable, company says

August 30, 2007

The text messaging component of Georgetown’s new emergency notification system is unreliable, an executive for the company providing the service admitted Wednesday.

“Text messaging is pretty problematic. We include it in the service, but it’s not something you can rely on,” Natasha Rabe, The NTI Group’s Chief Business Officer, said.

“If you are delivering a lot of SMS messages to people who are near the same cell tower, it could take hours for those messages to get out.”

She added that recorded voice calls, which are also provided under the new system, are more reliable.

NTI, a California-based company that has run notification services since 2001, will use recorded voice messages, text messages and e-mails to contact users.

Georgetown touted the system but admitted that text messaging is not always the most effective communication method because of inconsistent coverage in the area.

“The Georgetown University Emergency Notification System enhances Georgetown’s capability to notify members of the university community in the event of a campus emergency,” Vice President for University Safety Rocco DelMonaco said.

He also cited school closings and delayed openings as potential reasons to use the system.

“Decisions regarding emergency notifications will be made by university leaders as designated by the University’s emergency management plans,” DelMonaco said.

Administrators can call NTI and record a message, or send one via computer. Notifications can also be targeted at residents of certain buildings or different groups of students and staff. Rabe said NTI can send 2 million 60-second voice messages a minute.

NTI usually charges a university $2 per registered user, Rabe said. Students will be charged their cell phone carrier’s standard rate for text messages, and must agree to do so when first registering for the service.

They also have to provide a phone number, an e-mail address not provided by Georgetown and their residence information at sign-up.

Some students have already received test text messages upon signing up for the notification system.

Rabe said that approximately 150 schools currently use the service, but would not specify an exact number.

DelMonaco said NTI provides similar systems for other colleges, including Princeton University, Amherst College, University of Notre Dame and Tulane University.

Rabe said universities became more interested in emergency notification after the Virginia Tech massacre last April.

“Virginia Tech did raise awareness for a lot of campus officials who might not have been aware of the existence of these kinds of services,” she said.

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