Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

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Bill may force faster university emergency alerts

A bill proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday could force colleges and universities across the country to notify their students within 30 minutes of an on-campus emergency. 

The bill currently faces criticism from college administrators and police chiefs from several institutions of higher learning, as many say establishing a time limit is not always ideal or achievable during an emergency for a number of reasons.

“We have a series of protocols we have in place to deal with situations — literally a dozen different tools we use to reach campus depending on what that emergency is,” University of Wisconsin spokesperson John Lucas said. “Putting an artificial time limit into the mix amplifies the difficulty and pressure that police and administrators are in, in that kind of situation.” 

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The bill was introduced as an addition to the legislation to renew the Higher Education Act, which the U.S. House passed earlier this month. 

Some college administrators across the country have criticized the time limit because it would be “impossible” to meet, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Several police officers said the most important thing during an emergency is “to be on the scene, not in an office sending an alert.” The proposal comes as the Virginia Tech shooting last year nears its one-year anniversary later this month. Lucas said one of the mistakes committed by the university’s administration was the lack of effort to quickly reach campus during the shooting. UW Police Department Sgt. Jason Whitney said each situation is different and dictates distinct responses. 

“It would have to depend on what [situations] the bill is saying need to be notified,” Whitney said. “If it’s a fluid situation, 30 minutes could go by pretty quickly.”

UW continues its efforts to ensure campus safety and minimize the time it takes to notify students of emergency situations. The university has offered special programs to educate attendees on how to identify warning behavioral signs on possible attackers and what to do in the event of an active shooter incident, according to a statement. 

On the horizon is a text message alert system that will alert students of an emergency situation, particularly in cases where students are being asked to do something specific, like avoiding certain areas on campus or evacuating a certain building. 

Lucas said he expects the text messaging system to be operating by May 1.

“That gives us one more tool in addition to everything else we have currently to reach a student in a class or on a bus,” Lucas added.

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