UConn emergency alert system to begin using sirens with test Tuesday

The University of Connecticut will implement the use of alert sirens during its semesterly emergency alert system test at 12:25 p.m. Tuesday. (The Daily Campus/file photo)

The University of Connecticut will implement the use of alert sirens during its semesterly emergency alert system test at 12:25 p.m. Tuesday. (The Daily Campus/file photo)

The University of Connecticut will implement the use of alert sirens during its semesterly emergency alert system test at 12:25 p.m. Tuesday.

“The big change to the way that we’re notifying (the UConn community) is by incorporating the outdoor notification siren system,” Captain Chris Renshaw, the fire and police department’s Office of Emergency Management liaison, said.

Renshaw said they wanted to add this element to the alert system to address the fact that people may not always have their phones on them to get the text, email or social media notifications.

“The thought is not everyone has their phone on them when they’re outside…you may not… know that an alert is going out, but the sirens putting a tone out should be a prompt that: ‘hey something’s going on and you should check out why’,” Renshaw said.

The sirens will emit an audible wave-form tone to alert people to check the UConnAlert website, Renshaw said.

“We didn’t want people to catch only half the message,” Renshaw said.

Renshaw said his office also had concerns about the the waves bouncing off buildings making it difficult to properly decipher the message.

There are nine siren speakers on the main Storrs campus and one at depot campus, Renshaw said. Renshaw said his office may look to increase the number of sirens on the Storrs campus as well as expanding it to the branch campuses.

“Additional sirens may be something we look at in the future but we’re just trying to utilize the ones we have in place right now,” Renshaw said.

Renshaw said the sirens have been in place for a while, but they are only being implemented this year.

“No one’s ever heard them before and, moving forward, every time there’s an emergency notification, which ideally is never…(the sirens)will be associated with it,” Renshaw said.  

Another new part of the alert system is the creation of an SMS short code that allows people who do not have a net ID to enroll in text message emergency alerts.

“Parents, local businesses, visitors, community partners, and others can now get the same UConnAlert text messages that students, faculty and staff receive in the event of emergencies or other urgent situations,” the UConnAlert website said.

People can text UCONNALERT (one word, not case-sensitive) to 888-777 to enroll.

Renshaw said this new element was added to the system to allow visitors, businesses near or on campus and religious centers to receive these messages.

“Certainly, if something impacted us, it would impact them as well, and we’re enabling this feature so they can self-subscribe so they can get those notifications in real time,” Renshaw said.

Renshaw said this was a preemptive move to ensure that anyone who may be impacted by a situation can get important information.

“Everyone who may be impacted by an emergency on the UConn campuses, regardless of who they are, should have access to this information,” Renshaw said.

Renshaw said that, while the system is already rather comprehensive, this new dimension expands it even further.

“It’s just another layer of notification(s) into an already robust system,” Renshaw said.

Renshaw said the Office of Emergency Management is looking to work with the Lodewick Visitor’s Center and Events and Conference Services to inform visitors that they can enroll in the system to be prepared should anything happen during their visit.

Renshaw said the purpose of these tests is to make sure people are familiar with the system and that it is reaching everyone in the community as well as make sure the system and equipment are functioning.

“It allows us the opportunity to do a little bit of outreach to let people know the system is there, though we hope we never have to use it,” Renshaw said.

Renshaw said the university only utilizes this extensive system if there is a problem that is deemed to be “an immediate danger to life or health.”

Renshaw said examples of these situations include gas leaks, downed power lines, an ongoing police investigation like the one at Oak hall last year or an active threat.

(http://dailycampus.com/stories/2017/3/29/breaking-police-respond-to-false-alarm-at-oak-hall?rq=oak )

Renshaw said people must check alert.uconn.edu (http://alert.uconn.edu/) for information about what to do during an emergency and the most up-to-date updates on the situation.

“That’s designed as a constant reference point, so as…things unfold you turn to that website,” Renshaw said. “That’s the pivotal point for information during an emergency.”

Renshaw said that, in addition to updates about a situation, people can find resources about what to do before, during and after an emergency.

“It’s not just ‘hey there’s an emergency’ it’s ‘what do I next’,” Renshaw said.

Renshaw said that after completing these tests, his office always looks for ways to reach more people in more ways.

“What we have pulled from these tests is a continual look at expanding the system to widen our coverage,” Renshaw said.


Anna Zarra Aldrich is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at anna.aldrich@uconn.edu. She tweets @ZarraAnna.