Pitt sets up emergency system to reach students, employees

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Spurred by April's Virginia Tech massacre, the University of Pittsburgh will roll out a system to provide emergency text and voice messaging to its 32,000 students and 12,000 employees.

Pitt, the largest university in Western Pennsylvania, joins a growing list of campuses nationwide that have added such services or are contemplating them.

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Pitt had been exploring a text messaging system last fall, focused more on general uses. But the emphasis shifted to emergencies in the wake of the shooting rampage that left 32 students and faculty, plus the gunman dead on the Blacksburg, Va., campus.

Pitt expects to have its emergency notification system operational by the Aug. 27 start of classes, said Jinx Walton, Pitt's director of computing services and systems development. It will cover the university's main campus in Oakland and branches in Bradford, Greensburg, Johnstown and Titusville.

Ms. Walton said the university had received a number of inquiries from parents asking if such a system was in place.

Pitt already can use mass e-mails and other means to communicate urgent messages. But because the system includes mobile devices, "It's going to reach you no matter where you are. You may not even be on the campus," she said.

Pitt plans to use student sign-up tables on campus, Web site postings and other means to encourage participation in the system, which allows individuals to request as many as three numbers be contacted. "You can do your dorm room, your cell phone and, say, your BlackBerry," Ms. Walton said.

Depending on the situation, Pitt can send a university-wide alert or messages limited to specific groups, such as residence hall students or employees and students on a particular campus.

Ms. Walton said Pitt will outline the system for students during upcoming orientations.

Pitt has contracted with Verizon to deliver the service.

Other area schools, including Slippery Rock University and Carlow University, recently announced similar systems. Carnegie Mellon University plans to expand its emergency system for voice messaging in time for the fall semester.

Bill Schackner can be reached at bschackner@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1977.


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