Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Emergency Communication and Preparedness

This blog post is for week 3 of RIT’s Human Communication course.

As was widely reported on local Rochester news and to the school body on March 17th, a '”[possibly] armed individual [came] on campus”, and directions were given to recipients of the RIT Alert system:
Armed Intruder R.I.T. Alert! Take Cover. Posssible Armed suicidal person on campus. Go into nearest room. Lock or barricade the door. Follow instructions from authorities.
After the initial message was sent out via email and text message, students and others wishing to receive information about what happened went to the RIT website, which links to a page specifically for providing information during emergencies. However, to the dismay of those wanting this information, the page was useless, as no information had been posted. Nothing would be posted on that website until an hour or two after the event was over, in fact. During the time of the “armed intruder alert”, the school would only send out messages via the RIT Alert system, which presented problems of its own: the warning message would be sent out more than once to some people, and others wouldn’t get it at all. Some reports say that a subset of individuals received the messages, but were delayed for an hour or two. The system seems to have overloaded with the amount of traffic that was required to send out all of the messages, and so many were left in the dark.

After discovering the relative lack of information from RIT, many students turned to social networking websites, like Twitter and Facebook, in order to gather information about the current events. Through these mediums, students were able to communicate to others closer to where the events were occurring, and perhaps were able to gather more information. Some of this information was false or untrue, though. Part way through the events, a rumor surfaced starting on Twitter that there were ambulances and two dead people over by the Colony Manor apartments. While there may have been ambulances, the poster of the message on Twitter later apologized for the misinformation in order to dispel his prior statement. The power of these social media websites meant that simply making a clarification wasn’t enough; by the time the update was posted, the rumor had spread to a large number of students who were still awake at the hour, and was not immediately stopped.

The events of the 17th highlight the power of social networking sites and show the speed that news can travel when an important event has occurred. RIT has said they will be reviewing their protocols for mass notification, and will be taking steps to better inform the community, which would be much appreciated.