Berkeleyan

In case of emergency, get a warning

By phone, text message, or e-mail, WarnMe will have vital information for you

28 January 2009

The start of a new semester is a good time to remind faculty and staff to sign up for WarnMe, Berkeley's new alerting and warning service, which is entering its second semester of helping to keep the campus community safe in case of an immediate crisis. And the more than 18,000 students, faculty, and staff who have enrolled since signup started last August are urged to check at the semester's start to make sure that their contact information is up to date.

WarnMe is an opt-in system. To receive alerts and instructions, individuals must use their CalNet ID and sign up at warnme.berkeley.edu, providing their contact information.

Those enrolled in WarnMe receive alerts and instructions if there is a situation on or near campus that may pose an immediate threat to their safety. Alerts are sent in the event of significant emergencies, including natural disasters.

"The system uses contact information you provide. Emergency alerts and instructions on what to do can be sent via cell phone, text messaging, e-mail, and office and home phones, including TTY devices," says campus Police Chief Victoria Harrison.

WarnMe is part of ongoing efforts to improve campus safety and emergency response. The new system went into effect at the start of fall semester, after careful planning and testing.

To ensure reliable service 24/7, Berkeley is working closely with a commercial provider that specializes in rapid public notification and has redundant infrastructure at multiple sites. UC Davis and Vanderbilt University use the same provider for their alerting and warning systems.

Individuals are able to select how they want to be notified by cell phone, text message, e-mail, office phone, home phone, and TTY and in which order the chosen devices should receive the warning. In all, messages may be received on up to seven communication devices. The system will attempt to reach people on all numbers and addresses they provide. Participation in the system is free, but there may be a per message cost depending on individual mobile device plans.

Those enrolled may update their contact information at any time, at the WarnMe website, and changes will become effective within 24 hours. All contact information will be protected and kept private; it will be used only for WarnMe and will not be included in campus directories.

For employees who do not have access to phones and e-mail, their managers and supervisors are delegated to immediately alert them of emergency situations and instructions.

Active WarnMe messages begin with "emergency," "urgent," or "important." Occasional tests of the system begin with the word "test." WarnMe messages for each emergency will include a situation description and the action you should take immediately. They may also include additional information, depending on the incident.

In a developing or fast-changing situation, the initial message may be very general, such as "Emergency: There is a chemical hazard near Evans Hall. Police are responding. Shelter in place until further notice." As the situation develops, more specific information would be sent and instructions would be updated. "Urgent" and "important" messages are used when information and instructions are helpful but individual action may not be immediately required.

WarnMe is part of the campus's emergency communications system. In all emergencies, natural disasters, and other crises, information will be posted on the campus homepage, www.berkeley.edu, and on the off-site emergency website, emergency.berkeley.edu. It will also be recorded on the off-site, toll-free emergency number 1-800-705-9998, and broadcast on the campus radio station, KALX 90.7 FM.

In addition to the WarnMe system, the campus will continue to use its siren alert. The siren is tested the first Wednesday of every month at noon. At all other times, the siren means people should shelter in place and go to the campus website, call the 800 number, or tune to KALX for information and instructions.

For more information on emergency preparedness, go to the campus's Office of Emergency Preparedness website.