Pioneer Alert program to keep students, employees advised in emergencies

Release Date: August 14, 2009    

PLAINVIEW – Wayland Baptist University is in the process of enabling the Pioneer Alert communication system (powered by ConnectEd) to alert students and employees with time-sensitive information in the event of an emergency.

A service of Blackboard Connect, Pioneer Alert is built specifically for higher education institutions using Internet-based technology that allows campus leaders to schedule, send and track personalized voice messages to up to six phone numbers and two email addresses per student or employee. In the event of an emergency, the messages are sent instantly to groups of students and employees using several methods.

 “In today’s society we have to be prepared for situations that we may never have anticipated in the past, and we must be able to alert the Wayland family and keep them safe,” said Dr. Claude Lusk, vice president for enrollment management. “Because this program is multi-modal, we can keep students and staff informed whether they are in their dorms, sitting in front of their computers or on their way to class.”

The system helps officials reach students and employees via voice messages to home and work phones, cellular phones and email addresses; text messages to cell phones, PDAs, networked digital signage and devices; text messages to email accounts; and messages to TTY/TDD receiving devices for the hearing impaired.

Because of its multi-campus system, the university can use the Pioneer Alert system at any of its external locations in case of emergency in those cities or simply to inform employees at other locations of an emergency in Plainview. The ability to create distribution lists similar to an email system means the possibilities are endless in terms of reaching the necessary individuals.

Lusk said the university recently completed collecting contact numbers and emails for employees and tested the system during the work day. With the fall registration nearing, contact information is being collected from students for another test run in early fall.

While the system may be used to send any message a university wishes – from reminders about registration dates or payments due – Lusk emphasized that Wayland plans to only use the system for real emergencies, whether related to weather concerns or other threats to student or employee safety.

Services like Pioneer Alert have been successfully used for communication by schools across the country during events such as the wildfires in Southern California, Hurricanes Katrina and Ernesto, school evacuations, campus notifications required by the Clery Act and to help locate missing persons.

The notification system is one of several efforts by the university to improve security on campus in a changing climate. Last fall, Wayland hired a police chief, Lonnie Burton, to formally organize security forces as needed and focus on campus security. This fall, Jami McPherson joins the WBU police force to step up patrol efforts.

“We have been blessed in our 100 years to avoid any major catastrophes on campus, but we want to be fully prepared for anything that might occur,” Lusk said. “The safety and security of our students and employees is of utmost importance to us and if this effort helps us maintain that, it’s a worthwhile investment.”