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William and Mary announces new emergency alert system

The College of William and Mary has signed a contract with The NTI Group, Inc. (NTI), for an emergency alert system that will provide rapid communication to the campus community.William & Mary officials demonstrated the College's newly-purchased emergency alert system to members of the media. By Stephen Salpukas.

NTI’s Connect-ED® service will be used by William and Mary officials in emergency situations to send immediate messages to students, faculty and staff members, including those at the Williamsburg campus and at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science in Gloucester. The system will be in operation for the fall semester.

“This new alert system will allow us to communicate--effectively and critically--with our students, faculty, and staff in the event of an emergency,” said William and Mary President Gene R. Nichol. “Its sophistication and flexibility mean that we'll be able to convey messages where and when we need to do so. It's an invaluable tool for ensuring the safety of everyone at the College.”

Each of the College’s students, faculty or staff members can store up to six contact numbers and two e-mail addresses. During an emergency, designated members of the College’s Emergency Response Team will be able to access the system – remotely by phone or from their computer – and issue an alert simultaneously to the entire campus community. The system has the capacity to send voice messages to recipients’ landlines, cell phones and e-mail addresses and to send text messages to their cell phones, email addresses, TTY/TDD devices for the hearing impaired and other text receiving devices.

“This new system, combined with other communication measures we’ll be implementing this fall, will greatly improve our ability to communicate quickly and effectively,” said Sam Sadler, Vice President for Student Affairs, who also chairs the William and Mary’s Emergency Response Team. “We will be able to access this system from anywhere and alert our campus community immediately.”

Previously, campus-wide e-mail was the most effective means of issuing emergency messages to the College community. However, that system could take several hours to reach everyone on campus. The College started exploring other communication options back in January. The contract with NTI, which specializes in emergency notification systems for college campuses and school systems across the country, was signed last month. The California-based company’s other clients include military units and local, state and federal government agencies. The system was used by school districts in Florida during Hurricane Ernesto to immediately communicate school closings and delays to parents, helping prevent parents from unnecessarily driving through the dangerous weather. The system recently earned NTI the 2006 Award of Excellence by Technology & Learning Magazine.

The system can be tailored so that emergency messages can be targeted to specific sections of campus or to pre-determined groups of the campus community. For example, one message could be sent to the College’s emergency team alerting them of a situation and where to assemble, while other messages could be sent to a specific residence hall, building or the entire campus community.

The system is currently operational and officials have begun populating the database with numbers and e-mail addresses of students, faculty and staff. Sadler said the College will hold informational sessions about the new system at the beginning of the school year so that everyone on campus understands how it works, when it will be used and the importance of taking responsibility to ensure contact information is up-to-date.

“As we set up the system, we'll be working with students, faculty and staff to make sure we have up-to-date contact information,” Sadler said. “At the beginning of the school year, we'll send out an emergency test message to everyone on campus. This system will give us an instant report on what numbers picked up, which numbers are no longer valid and which numbers we need to update.”

For more information on the Connect-ED® service, visit