The use of the campus emergency notification system has been a topic of interest after two incidents fall semester.
CENS alerts were not sent out after a freshman student went missing in September or the sexual assault of three female students in an off-campus apartment over semester break.
The question of when, why and which situations call for an emergency notification came up due to clarity issues concerning the system.
Notifications are sent out when a potential threat affects all students on campus. The bomb threat in the fall of 2012 is a textbook example for those who can recall.
Another example is cancellations due to weather. Last year, the system was used multiple times during an exceptionally cold winter.
When the system is used, it works well. However, improvements can still be made.
CENS is used for campus-wide emergencies as well as weather-related cancellations. In this regard, CENS has been applied effectively.
Classes were cancelled twice in the 2013 and 2014 spring semesters due to weather conditions. The timeliness of the CENS alerts for campus closure gave students and staff ample time to adjust.
Out of the four alerts sent, the latest was given at 10:44 p.m. notifying recipients of campus closure for the following day. The other alerts were either sent in the afternoon or the morning before the closure.
From a student’s perspective, some issues come up when addressing CENS — like the specifics concerning Greek Life housing.
A certain gray area is present since the houses are all privately owned, but the majority of Greek houses are within walking distance of campus. If University Police is called to respond, the situation should be a considered a campus issue.
Not considering incidents that occur at a Greek Life house a threats to campus is short-sighted since situations in a Greek house can quickly become an on-campus situation if a culprit simply walks across the street — especially when taking into consideration that all the residents of these houses are North Dakota State students.
The Needs Improving
Test alerts are sent out on the first Wednesday of every month. Email, text message and phone call alerts are sent to all subscribers of the system.
Receiving several variations of the same alert every month gets redundant. If the phone message is not listened to in its entirety, a second call is sent. This borders excessive.
One alternative to the current format could be be to test alerts only twice a semester, once at the beginning of the term and again around midterms. Reducing the amount of emails, texts and phone calls to one alert each could further improve the overall opinion of CENS.
More definitive decisions need to be made as to what should be covered by the system. It’s understood that the usage of the system won’t be perfect, but it should at least be uniform and understood.
Some situations may not call for the use of CENS in its entirety. Many, like the Thomas Bearson and Bison Arms cases, require a simple email.
This way students can be aware of any potential threats to their safety without causing panic.
Students deserve to be in the know. Hearing about a potential threat from news sources first leaves students feeling discouraged about the state of security on campus. An email reflecting on the incident days later is not enough.
We welcome any responses from university officials or campus police. If we have misrepresented any aspects of the systems, we will gladly take any clarifications.