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Students question efficacy of UNC alert system

Posted February 16, 2009
Updated March 9, 2009

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— As police continued to investigate a bomb threat on the University of North Carolina campus, students on Monday questioned the effectiveness of a security system designed to alert them quickly to potential threats.

An unidentified man called Orange County 911 at about 9 p.m. Sunday and said a bomb was at "The Pit," a popular gathering spot in the middle of the UNC campus. Students registered with the Alert Carolina crisis information system were notified of the threat via text message at about 11:30 p.m.

Alert Carolina system, bomb threat alert Tardy notices of threat prompt student complaints

Some students questioned the delay in receiving information about the incident.

"The first Web site that had anything about (the bomb threat) was the Daily Tar Heel Web site, and that's how I was reading about it," freshman Ian Dale said. "Eventually, the Alert Carolina system online had some information about it.

"The fact that you had to learn about it through the news – a news source rather than the university – is kind of concerning," Dale said.

Sophomore Jasmine Gregory said she received a text message about the bomb threat at 11:51 p.m. Sunday.

"At the time, I mean, I wasn't on campus, but other people were there, and if they didn't know, they couldn't have done anything about it," Gregory said.

Alert Carolina was established in the wake of the April 2007 massacre of 32 students and faculty at Virginia Tech. The system is designed to send information quickly to students and staff about potential threats on campus.

UNC officials declined to discuss Monday why the text messages were sent more than two hours after the bomb threat was received. A statement posted on the Alert Carolina Web site said authorities were more concerned about evacuating the immediate area.

"The university focuses first on responding to the threat and protecting those directly at risk. Once that essential work is done, and when the facts are available, we will post information about campus security to the Alert Carolina Web site," the statement said.

The only three instances where activating the sirens and sending the text messages are the first priority if a gunman were on campus, a tornado was approaching or a hazardous chemical spill had occurred, the Alert Carolina statement said.

Sophomore Alexis Ivey disagreed with the lower priority officials gave to notifying students about the bomb threat.

"The fact that there was such a large delay, if there was an actual threat on campus, a lot of students wouldn't have been notified," Ivey said. "You kind of have to take every threat as seriously as possible."

Campus police, Chapel Hill police and Orange County sheriff's deputies responded to "The Pit" immediately after receiving the threat and evacuated surrounding buildings. Several searches of the area turned up nothing, and police allowed students to return to their dormitories early Monday.

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  • dukeman64 Feb 16, 2009

    "College students will complain about any thing and every thing that college administrators do ..... from cafeteria food to toilet paper in dorm restrooms. "Complain" is what college students like to do best ..... nothing new about that."

    Suppose there had actually been a bomb at The Pit. Then, suppose you had planned to meet some friends there at a quarter to ten. If the text message were sent off late, you could have been in danger. "Complaining" about a faulty DANGER ALERT system is actually LEGITIMATE.

  • morgs Feb 16, 2009

    Let's put it this way . . . I read about it on WRAL before I ever received a text from UNC. That's a huge breakdown in communication that needs to be resolved. Right now Alert Carolina wouldn't help/save anyone.

  • caniactarheel Feb 16, 2009

    Have you ever been to campus? There are dorms all over the place, some right across the street from the pit. a bus runs till 3am every night for students use and it goes right by the pit. and with the UL being open 24 hours, students shouldn't have had to run into an officer to know that the UL and pit were evacuated and there had been a threat.

  • foetine Feb 16, 2009

    Once the school locks off the Pit area with officers holding shotguns, they really need to send the message out to the students that this area is off limits. UNC should be ashamed that they can only come up with excuses for taking their sweet time at alerting the campus.

  • foetine Feb 16, 2009

    This just shows what a security lemon Bowles has unloaded on the taxpayers of NC. There is no reason why WRAL should be able to scoop this alert system with a live remote featuring edited interviews with students? Any student that has business near the library should be tipped off so they didn't visit the area and clog up the roads around the area.

    What is the point of this alert system is it's basically giving the student's old news? Did it get designed by the history department?

  • redwarrior Feb 16, 2009

    If you weren't in the Pit, or in a surrounding building, then your safety wasn't in jeopardy.

  • ObamaMustGo aka NCcarguy Feb 16, 2009

    These systems are really a joke....no one will ever be "saved" by this...but we keep telling everyone they're safe, we have a WARNING system, and some believe it.

  • something2say Feb 16, 2009

    I think if they have the text message system they should use it to inform and rely information in a timely manner. Are you saying that the tech guys were there getting folks out? No. They could have done both at the same time and not had this problem!

  • caniactarheel Feb 16, 2009

    I'm a student at UNC, and students are complaining because it would have been better to receive a warning message after the threat had occurred so that those on campus would stay where they were and not cause more of a hassle for police evacuating students around the Pit. and to redwarrior: we are entitled to know if there is a threat to our personal safety. Like mpheels said: a warning message that said to wait for more information would have been better.

  • redwarrior Feb 16, 2009

    Bottom line, after the buildings were evacuated, the students weren't at risk. The only reason they feel like they should know is because they feel entitled to know.

    Sheep.

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