UA Alerts should be used, not neglected

CW Editorial Board

The events of Sunday night are testament to the unfortunate reality that educational institutions are prime 
candidates for threats and violence.

The memories of recent violent events in Colorado, Virginia and Connecticut are evidence of this. Reasons for attacking students are often never fully determined or even properly understood, which magnified the fear and frustration all UA students felt Sunday night.

At a place of higher education with roughly 36,000 students, Sunday night poignantly reminds law enforcement and the administration to relay serious, valid information to students as swiftly and accurately as possible. The ramifications of withholding information about potentially threatening situations causes panic and rumors to spread in a flurry.

Sunday night there was an oversight in how quickly information was relayed to the student body, faculty and staff by University of Alabama Media Relations. Whether or not “immediate action” needed to be taken, as one of the emails sent to students denied, the University has an obligation to keep its community informed and up-to-date with as much accurate information as possible, and Sunday night, the University did not meet that obligation.

The University has two tools in place to quickly share critical information: UA News and the UA Alert System.

According to prepare.ua.edu, the UA Alert System should be used in the following ways:

“In an emergency, University Relations will activate the system, sending telephone calls (work, cell, and/or home), e-mail, and text (SMS) messages simultaneously to the campus community.”

“An emergency notification is an urgent official notification regarding a significant emergency or dangerous situation that may compromise the health and safety of members of the campus community. Typically an emergency notification is provided without delay upon confirmation of an immediate or impending threat and empowers the recipient to take appropriate action to minimize injury or loss of life.”

There was a potential emergency situation at a residence hall on campus, and University Relations did not activate the system. Students did not receive any official notification about the incident until 12:07 a.m., over an hour and 15 minutes after UAPD began searching the building.

By not sharing updated information, the University created a vacuum for panic. The lack of information left room for people to speculate, and rumors spread rapidly via social media. Much of the social media panic could have been prevented if students were informed that the situation was being handled properly. Instead, the UA Alerts System was silent, and fear took hold.

In a message sent to UA students Monday morning, UA President Judy Bonner said the following:

“I can assure you that UA will always respond quickly and notify the campus community when you need to take immediate action. In this case, no one was in danger and immediate action was not required.”

UAPD felt it necessary to place Tutwiler on 
lockdown, establish a secure perimeter around the building and instruct students living on Sorority Row to stay indoors. Immediate action was required, yet the campus 
community at large was not informed.

One minute after being notified of the situation, UAPD acted to set up and secure a perimeter around Tutwiler, and the officers should be praised for their work. Within 45 minutes, UAPD had thoroughly searched all 14 stories of the residence hall and cleared the area. UAPD aims to protect students on campus at every instance – their swift response and thorough investigation fulfilled that aim and was commendable.

Law enforcement officers responded quickly and properly to the situation, and made sure residents in the area were safe. University Relations, by not using the UA Alerts System, did not do an effective job of keeping members of the UA community safe and informed.

The blame should not be placed on any one individual, as no single person had 100 percent of the say in what happened. Rather, University Relations as a whole failed its constituents and its mission.

Looking ahead, this incident should be considered a lesson learned. In the event that students are faced with a potential threat of violence, University Relations should learn from this mistake and use the available resources to keep members of the UA community informed and, most importantly, safe.

The Our View is the consensus of The Crimson White Editorial Board. Production Editor Andy McWhorter recused himself from participating in this Our View.