Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 3
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Inside Whitman’s Emergency Alert System

On Jan. 15, a message was sent out via Whitman’s emergency alert system regarding “disturbing social media activity.” Recipients were advised to “remain extra aware.”

Vice President for Communications Gina Zandy Ohnstad declined to provide exact details about the activity that led to the security alert. 

“It involved a significant amount of social media activity by one Walla Walla resident in which Whitman was the focus. We worked closely with local and federal law enforcement who did not feel like the situation rose to the level of a “threat.” However, together with law enforcement, we decided that it was a good idea to alert the campus community so they could be … attentive to their surroundings,” Ohnstad said.

Director of Security Greg Powell further described the individual as “known to our local police department,” but declined to give further information.

He also added that campus security doesn’t just watch what’s happening on and around the physical campus.

“We have employees who monitor social media … to ensure our community’s safety to the best of our ability,” Powell said.

Ohnstad emphasized that the purpose of the announcement was not to scare anyone.

“When considering campus communications, our goal is not to cause unnecessary fear, but to increase awareness or, when applicable, to give the campus the tools they need to keep themselves safe. Safety is our highest priority and that is the guiding factor in our communications,” Ohnstad said.

This is not the only message that has been sent out via the emergency alert system this semester. On Jan. 22, a two-hour weather delay was announced through the system, following severe cold and snowy conditions. 

Whitman uses the Everbridge Emergency Alert System to send out these messages. According to Ohnstad, the college has been working with Everbridge since 2019. The system allows for alerts to be sent out to all of campus when necessary via text, email or phone call, depending on the recipient’s “Campus Alert” settings in myWhitman.

Additionally, the system is frequently tested to ensure that it is functioning properly. This includes both internal weekly tests, and a campus-wide test alert each semester.

According to Powell, campus security and the communications office work in tandem to make calls about when a security alert is necessary. This is in compliance with the Jeanne Clery Act, which requires colleges and universities to make staff and students aware of crimes occurring on or near their campuses. Whitman’s system is also used to disseminate other important information, particularly weather-related news. According to Ohnstad, this is far more common than suspicious activity and crime reporting.

“More frequently it has been used to communicate about weather closures, weather delays or poor air quality. In addition, it was used daily during the COVID-19 pandemic. Each day faculty, staff and students were required to complete a wellness check via Everbridge in order to access campus. Once completed they would receive a “pass” on their phone that allowed them to access campus buildings. This was all done through the Everbridge app,” Ohnstad said.

Internal Communications Strategist Bradley Nelson emphasized the importance of the alert system.

“In the case of an emergency on campus, communication is one of the most important tools we have to keep the community safe. Our ability to send emergency information to members of the Whitman campus community depends on having accurate contact information. We encourage all students, staff and faculty to take a moment to log in to myWhitman and verify that their ‘Campus Alert’ information is up to date,” Nelson said.

“Campus Alert” can be found under “Profile” on the left side of the myWhitman front page. 

Both Ohnstad and Powell affirmed their confidence in the Everbridge system. Ohnstad referenced “vetting several companies” before settling on Everbridge, and Powell agreed that he thinks Everbridge was a good choice.

“The system is highly reliable and extensively used in higher education institutions,” Powell said.

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