The College’s new Outdoor Mass Notification System, which underwent its first annual audible testing on Thursday afternoon, provides a way to instantly alert the campus and surrounding communities of a serious emergency, according to Director of Safety and Security and College Proctor Harry Kinne. Despite claims that the OMNS would be heard at a distance of up to 10 miles, some students interviewed by The Dartmouth said they did not hear the test, which lasted for approximately 10 minutes beginning at 1:15 p.m.
Robbery, extreme weather and a chemical leak are examples of circumstances that would trigger the use of the new system, located on top of Murdough Hall at Tuck School of Business and on Observatory Hill on Dartmouth’s main campus. Systems in both locations were installed in mid-January.
By immediately reaching people outdoors, the new system — equipped with a siren and an automated voice that instructs the community on the proper course of action in a given situation — represents an upgrade from the DartAlert system, which primarily relies on cell phone and email communication, according to Kinne.
“How could we notify people outside, for example by the baseball field or down by the river?” Kinne said. “How could we make sure they’re aware of a catastrophic event?”
Before launching the system, for which construction began last summer, the College had to receive approval from the Town of Hanover’s Zoning Board of Adjustment in order to comply with the town’s regulations for structures and noises. The College collaborated with Hanover’s Communications Division to inform surrounding areas’ police and fire departments about Thursday’s test to prevent panic, according to Kinne.
Although the campus-wide email notifying students and Dartmouth community members about the testing said that “residents as far as Lyme may be able to hear the alarm when activated,” several students said they were unable to hear the siren from various areas in Hanover.
Remy Franklin ’13 said he could not hear the alarm inside the Class of 1953 Commons, and Molly McBride ’14 said the test was inaudible from an off-campus apartment at 22 West Wheelock Street.
“From all of the notifications we were getting about it, I thought it was going to be a much bigger deal than it was,” Nick Allen ’14 said. “Frankly, I was disappointed. I could barely hear it from the library.”
Several students, including Andrew Lindner ’15 and Emmy Porter ’14, said the notification system may not be effective due to the lack of clarity of both the alarm and accompanying voice.
Other students, however, said the system will function as a good warning system.
“I think even though we’re in a pretty isolated area, and even though it seems like a bit of overkill, it can never hurt, especially if something were to ever happen,” Stephen Malina ’15 said.
The move toward instant emergency mass notification systems on college campuses is largely a response to regulations contained in the Jeanne Clery Act passed in 2008 following the shootings at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, according Peggy Matta, director of the Office of Emergency Planning and Recovery at Cornell University. Like Dartmouth, Cornell has an emergency system — which has been in place since 2006 and is tested each semester — that consists of sirens and a vocal announcement.
Middlebury College’s current system, “Rave,” was implemented during the fall and is limited to text messages, landline phone messages for faculty and staff and a campus-wide email, according to Telecommunications Manager Margaret Fischel. Last year, Middlebury transitioned from its old notification process, which was ill-suited for a college campus because of its inability to issue warnings through text messages, Fischel said.
Harvard University uses a “MessageMe” mass notification system to alert community members of a safety threat via their preferred means, including telephone, text message or email, according to Steven Catalano, Harvard Police Department’s public information officer.
“In the event of a life-threatening and/or campus-wide emergency, select members of HUPD and/or Harvard Public Affairs & Communications Office will ... determine the content of the notification as well as the appropriate audience for its receipt and will initiate the MessageMe system,” Catalano said in an email to The Dartmouth.
The absence of a full-fledged campus police force has no impact on the College’s ability to provide emergency notification, according to Kinne, who said he meets weekly with Hanover Police Chief Nicholas Giaccone.
Staff writer Lindsay Ellis contributed reporting to this article.