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Dickinson State to create emergency response plan

DICKINSON - Applying lessons learned from the shootings at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University, Dickinson State officials are working this summer break to create an emergency notification plan for their campus, said vice president for ...

DICKINSON - Applying lessons learned from the shootings at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University, Dickinson State officials are working this summer break to create an emergency notification plan for their campus, said vice president for student development Hal Haynes.

"We want to be prepared to efficiently notify our campus when we have an emergency," Haynes said. "Federal legislation is going to require us to do this probably in a 30-minute timeframe."

Congress is yet to mandate that colleges have emergency response plans, but DSU and its sister institutions in North Dakota are implementing a notification system in anticipation of such a requirement, Haynes said.

Most schools in the North Dakota University System this summer will be installing a program called NotiFind to alert students, faculty and staff of an emergency, said Laura Glatt, NDUS vice chancellor for administrative affairs. All state universities will ultimately use the program which is capable of quickly sending thousands of messages through e-mails, text messages, faxes and calls to landlines, mobile phones and pagers.

The notification system has the potential to be used in various emergency situations, ranging from a blizzard to an active shooter on campus, Haynes said.

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Across the state, the installation of the program is still in the early stages, Glatt said. DSU expects to have NotiFind in operation by Aug. 15, Haynes said.

DSU is now compiling the contact information of students, faculty and staff. University employees will be required to give their work telephone numbers and e-mail addresses, but students will have the option to withhold their contact information, Haynes said.

"I would prefer to see us go to a system where all students are required to give us their personal information to notify them," he said. "I'm hopeful that most of our students will respond positively towards this, but I'm not certain that's going to be the case because people value their privacy."

Haynes emphasized the information would only be used in emergencies.

Glatt said all state universities are facing similar challenges. By encouraging student participation in the program, universities should be able to incorporate the vast majority of students, she said.

"When you start forcing the students to do something of this nature, you run into a lot of student resistance," she said. "Obviously, making it voluntary, you know, we can avoid that and hopefully bring them along."

The NotiFind system, developed by the Pennsylvania-based Strohl System Group, will be tested once a semester, Haynes said.

The system can send hundreds of thousands of messages in an hour. When asked if there were concerns it could overwhelm telephone or computer networks, Glatt said such an issue may be revealed in testing the system and would be dealt with at that point.

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Haynes said NotiFind is to be integrated into DSU's existing strategy for spreading the word of an emergency, which involves phoning vice presidents so they can notify their departments, having resident directors tell their students and contacting local news media.

Haynes said DSU is exploring alarm systems, sirens, flashing lights and ways to display emergency messages on computer and TV screens. The campus is also looking to establish a 24-hour emergency line staffed by students, he said.

Haynes said it's a simple truth that all colleges are susceptible to tragedies.

"No institution is actually immune or can absolutely guarantee that we're going to be incident free -- even safe little Dickinson State University," he said.

Related Topics: DICKINSON
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