HOYAlert experiences glitches after transition to an “opt-out” text system

April 18, 2023

Illustration by Deborah Han

Georgetown’s mass emergency notification system HOYAlert experienced technical glitches following its transition to an “opt-out” model for its text message alerts, which the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) announced on March 20. 

The system is responsible for disseminating information regarding safety and security risks to all current students, faculty and staff. Community members were already automatically enrolled to receive email alerts, and those with phone numbers on file are now automatically signed up for HOYAlert text messages. 

On the day of the announcement, a test alert mistakenly sent text messages to non-community members, including some university applicants who had not yet received admissions decisions. 

“As contact information data was integrated into HOYAlert from across the university’s many databases, some contact information for individuals who are not current members of our community, including some applicants, was mistakenly added to the HOYAlert system,” a university spokesperson wrote to the Voice. “This contact information was promptly identified and removed from the system.” 

The HOYAlert notifications did not appear to be indicative of an applicant’s success—some accepted students received the texts while others did not.  

The next day, a HOYAlert about a fire at Thompson Athletic Center was accidentally issued to Georgetown community members and applicants via phone call, in addition to email and text from the Georgetown University Police Department’s (GUPD) phone number, which is not the OEM’s general procedure for issuing alerts, according to the spokesperson. “Steps are being taken to ensure that this does not occur in the future,” they wrote.

GUPD also issued an erroneous timely safety warning email on April 3 for an assault with a deadly weapon that had actually occurred on March 25. A correction and apology were issued via email 22 minutes following the false announcement. 

“During a training session this week on use of the system for sending HOYAlerts and Timely Warnings, a trainee accidentally re-sent a prior Timely Safety Warning,” a university spokesperson wrote. “We regret the error and appreciate the understanding of the community as we work to ensure we have staff who are well trained on these important processes.”

Nicholas Hornbostel (CAS ’27) received text messages from HOYAlert on March 20 and 21. He assumed they were sent to him accidentally but was unsure if the notification was reflective of admissions decisions, which had yet to be released.  

“I knew it was a glitch one way or another, but I wasn’t actually sure if it meant anything, so I was definitely a little conflicted,” Hornbostel said. “I’d say it was definitely a tense time because it was a week before all my admissions decisions.”

Nicholas Ji (CAS ’26) said that keeping methods of communication consistent when alerts are issued is important for the system’s efficacy, in response to the recent confusion surrounding HOYAlerts. 

“[HOYAlert] directly concerns student safety. I would appreciate a system that’s more accessible or a system that’s more standardized for sure,” he said. “Working out the kinks in terms of how they send out that information to students, that’d be much appreciated.”

Some alert recipients took to online chat forums, such as College Confidential, DC Urban Moms and Dads, to express their confusion. “My kid applied RD [Regular Decision], and I have never received a single email or text at any time from GU…is that a bad sign?” one anonymous parent wrote on DC Urban Moms and Dads. 

University officials have previously faced criticism for issuing late emergency alerts after past incidents. Mistakenly issued alerts are uncommon, though not unprecedented

Still, a reliably operating emergency notification system remains a key component of student safety, even if it is not always in use. 

“We are generally in a very safe area but having that system in case of something that’s, for example, on campus or something like that could be relevant. It’s better to be safe than sorry,” Ji said. 

Angelena Bougiamas
Angelena is assistant news editor and a sophomore studying Political Economy and Journalism. She has suddenly forgotten all of her likes and interests and has nothing more to say except that this is really out of character for her.

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