Wheaton College installed a new emergency notification system throughout the entire campus, employing updated modes of communication to better equip the Wheaton community for emergency situations.

After receiving multiple reports that students and employees were unable to understand the voice messages of the older emergency notification system, Wheaton College chose to update the system entirely instead of performing expensive maintenance on the older system. Chief Information Officer Wendy Woodward teamed up with Public Safety, Academic and Institutional Technology, Auxiliary Services and Facilities Management to new system options.

The meetings involved contacting peer institutions to find a product that would be more effective and less expensive than “constant” maintenance on the older system. A decision was made to pair two products, Alertus and Rave. After reviewing the alternatives used by the top one hundred liberal arts colleges in the nation, they found that 70 percent had “these exact solutions.” Both software programs provide numerous forms of communication between faculty, staff and students in the event of an emergency.

Students will mainly be contacted through cell phone alerts in the form of texts. The emergency notification system also calls the home phone numbers of faculty members, sends emails, pushes pop-up messages on computers connected to the Wheaton network and initiates voice announcements through all classroom speaker phones on campus.

Beacons have been installed throughout campus, specifically on walls in residence halls and public areas where higher numbers of non-Wheaton people congregate. In the event of an emergency, the beacon releases a high-pitched sound which should prompt students to check their phones for additional messages and further details. In the event of an emergency, beacons will flash red and have a scrolling message on them, similar to the older system. The severity of the event will dictate which modes of communication are employed.

Woodward encourages all students to “get their phone numbers in the system up to date, and keep them up to date, because without the phone number we cannot reach you.” Since the main function of the program relies heavily on cell phones, faculty and staff and students should update their mobile phone numbers. Mobile phone numbers must be entered into the mobile phone field, instead of the home phone field, on the new Wheaton portal under Banner Self Service.

Even though the technical staff completed the programming, Public Safety will be the functional owner of the new system. The implementation process began in April 2015, and the beacons are the most recent installation of the emergency notification system. Now that it is fully functional, tests will be run in early September to ensure students are aware of what the new emergency notification system sounds and looks like.