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Student government to vote on Alert BG proposal at next meeting

If there is an emergency on campus, it is natural to assume students would want to know, but most students aren’t even signed up for the text message system that would alert them.

This is exactly what members of Undergraduate Student Government and Information Technology Services are looking to remedy through reforms to Alert BG.

Alert BG is a text message and email alert system in which University Police send messages to warn the campus community of emergencies. The system emails all University account holders in the event of an emergency, said Matt Haschak, director of IT security and networking in the Department of Information Technology.

The University homepage, Facebook page and Twitter account also change and 125 digital screens throughout campus also display the message.

Students can also opt into a two-year subscription to receive Alert BG texts. Of a campus of more than 20,000, there are only 5,779 subscribers, which includes 1,000 faculty and staff, Haschak said. This is roughly one in four people.

ITS is working with USG to find a way to make the text message program opt-out, meaning students would automatically be registered for Alert BG texts to their phone as early as fall semester. The plan would also allow for faculty and even students’ parents to sign up.

“One of the things we’ve been seeing in general at the University is students don’t check their email as regularly,” Haschak said.

Students are more likely to check their phones after a tone or vibration alerts them, he said.

John Ellinger, chief information officer for ITS, had the idea to switch Alert BG to opt-out.

“I just felt that we weren’t getting enough individuals by the opt-in into the system so we weren’t covering as much as we can across the campus,” Ellinger said.

Ellinger spoke with USG President Alex Solis and Graduate Student Senate President David Sleasman in October for their organizations’ feedback.

“I absolutely, 100 percent fully support it,” Solis said. “It’s kind of almost a no-brainer.”

USG could vote to endorse the opt-out system as early as Monday. Senator Eric Juzkiw is working on legislation that will be brought to the senate floor for discussion.

“I’m definitely very hopeful that this gets the endorsement,” Solis said. “I would love to be signing this into effect in the near future.”

The current Alert BG system has been in place since 2007, in response to the Virginia Tech shooting.

Other colleges already have an opt-out program, such as Arizona State University, Florida University and The Ohio State University. The state of Texas even has a law requiring all universities to have an opt-out system.

Haschak is working on how the University would implement the new system.

Students will be able to access their Alert BG account on MyBGSU. There, they would be able to opt out or add alternate emails or phone numbers to alert, he said.

The University must still get the cell phone numbers of students, of whom the University has 80 percent, Haschak said.

“Fortunately, we have not had a major incident that heightens everyone’s awareness of needing [an opt-out system],” Haschak said.

The system is commonly used to alert the campus of snow delays, school closings, tornado warnings and gas leaks, he said.

“We’ve got natural emergencies that you certainly want to know about and we’ve got man-made emergencies that you want to know about,” Ellinger said. “We want information for our students to be convenient and to be responsive at the time that we have information to share, particularly in an emergency.”

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