Twitter considered for emergency notifications

The Daily News

University Police Department and University Marketing and Communications are reconsidering using Twitter for public safety and emergency notifications following communication strategies used when an alleged gunman was on campus.

“The situation that we had [March 11] has led us to reconsider and reevaluate how we use Twitter, in particular for an emergency,” said Tony Proudfoot, associate vice president for Marketing and Communications. “Communicating with 20,000 people about something as serious as public safety is a very important responsibility.”

Proudfoot said his department debriefs with Ball State’s Crisis Management Team every time after an emergency situation occurs.

He said the alleged gunman discussion led them to consider including Twitter in the university’s emergency communication protocol, although the final decision won’t be made until the next meeting in April.

Proudfoot said social media has intentionally not been a part of emergency notifications because the university felt using it could have compromised the accuracy of the information.

“If we are not communicating clear, accurate information about credible threats, then the campus will stop listening when they get emergency notifications,” Proudfoot said. “The safety of the campus is at stake.”

University officials believed in the past that keeping notifications off of social media would keep students skeptical of false alarms and rumors posted by other people, Proudfoot said.

Under current protocols, Marketing and Communications is required to send the message out via email and text message within 10 minutes of being notified by Director of Public Safety Gene Burton. But Proudfoot said the university normally sends it within five minutes. UPD are the ones who decide if an alert is needed after they gather enough information.

UPD’s Twitter account @BSUPolice has had two tweets and one retweet since it was started Jan. 13, 2012. The last tweet was March 23, 2012.

Detectives Kent Kurtz and David Huff would like to put the account back in use to communicate with students.

“We have to look at it from a student standpoint,” Huff said. “Generations are different in what tools they use.”

While UPD currently has multiple outlets for students to contact them onBall State’s website, through email and anonymous tips, Kurtz said they don’t have a way to send out information.

“It is one sided,” Huff said. “It’s them giving us information.”

Kurtz and Huff said they would want to post safety reminders for students and photos of people they are actively looking for.

Huff said he thinks putting someone’s picture on Twitter would help UPD make an arrest faster because more people would see it and potentially recognize the suspect.

“We don’t necessarily want to use it as an investigative tool,” Huff said. “It’s just a good way to communicate. It doesn’t necessarily need to be crime related.”

Proudfoot said his department helped make a plan for how UPD should use their Twitter, but UPD is ultimately in charge.

“We worked with UPD and provided some guidance on some best practices when the account first started,” Proudfoot said. “That’s kind of the nature of the guidance that we provide. After that we’re not really the yes or no people in terms of how it’s used once it’s established.”

He said there are two kinds of public safety communications: emergency notifications, which is a situation where immediate action needs to be taken from imminent danger, and public safety notices, which is a situation where something needs to be brought to attention.

Proudfoot said it’s possible that UPD’s Twitter could be used for public safety notices.

Kurtz said some of the concerns behind using Twitter would be accidentally sending out information that should have been an emergency alert.

According to the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, UPD has to follow strict guidelines to release emergency alerts through the emergency alert system only.

“When you start talking about Clery violations and things of that nature, you start talking about very large fines.” Kurtz said.

He said that is something the department would have to consider, as well as who would be in charge of the account. To Huff and Kurtz, it would be worth being careful to keep students safe.

“I don’t think any of us have figured out yet why it would be a bad thing,” Huff said.

Proudfoot said the best way to stay safe is to be familiar with current emergency protocols.

“The best thing the campus community can do is look at that site and sign up for emergency text messaging,” Proudfoot said. “Chances are you are going to know exactly what to do when seconds matter.”


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