Colleges Consider Updated Pager Technology for Emergency Alerts

A key fob that is used as a part of the RavenAlert system.

Colleges have wrestled with emergency-alert systems for years. E-mail is sometimes inaccessible to students and staff on the move, and text-message systems have been slow. The latest fix is based, surprisingly, on one of the oldest wireless communication systems around: the pager.

IntelliGuard Systems, a company that offers wireless “first responder” messaging, has introduced RavenAlert for college campuses. The technology mimics paging systems that are already used at hospitals and fire stations. But in this case, the pagers carried by students are small key fobs that house wireless receivers. The key fobs can display messages in text, emit sounds or words, vibrate, and emit a flash of light. The system also includes wall units for classrooms that display emergency messages in text, and large LED displays in major campus gathering places.

Drexel University was part of a pilot study of the system last year, in which five other colleges were also involved. Joseph Spera, director of operations in Drexel’s department of public safety, said it “worked fantastically.” In a test, “everyone was notified within 11 seconds.” Traditional text-message based systems can be delayed if a wireless carrier has heavy traffic at that moment, and also can become backlogged if multiple messages are sent out in quick succession.

He added that he is not concerned that college students will be put off by the need to carry an additional piece of technology, the key fob, while on campus. “Two of my kids are college students and I would want them to carry it,” Mr. Spera said.

It’s important to note that no single system is good enough for alerts, he said. Drexel has not decided whether to purchase the RavenAlert system, but if the university did,  Mr. Spera said, it would simply become part of DrexelAlert, the notification system already in place, which now uses a combination of text messaging and e-mail. “There is no standalone system that makes up DrexelAlert,” he said.

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