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NC State text messaging test ‘successful’

With the completion of a test run, NC State has cleared the last remaining hurdle to full implementation of text message alerts as part of an array of methods of notifying the campus in the event of an emergency.

In last week’s test of the WolfAlert text messaging system, about 12,000 text messages were sent to students and employees who had registered to receive the text messages. More than 10,000 of those messages were delivered in about 15 minutes. (If you haven’t registered, click on MyPack portal at the top of the home page, log in and follow the “How to sign up for WolfAlert” link.)

David Rainer, associate vice chancellor for environmental health and public safety, said the test was a success.

“Our goal was to test the system from a technical standpoint and to learn what we could from our first attempt to send a message to everyone who registered,” Rainer said. “We had some technical glitches, but other than that, the system worked the way it should have. The one technical glitch we experienced involved a provider who was in the middle of a technical update of its text messaging. So the vast majority of the company’s customers did not receive the message. We were told that the problem will be corrected in the next two weeks.”

The text message went out at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 20. A follow-up broadcast email to the entire campus asked recipients to help evaluate the test by filling out a survey, which asked questions such as what time the message was received and who is your service provider.

Rainer said about 6,500 people filled out the survey in response to the test. Comments ranged from “What a great idea” to “What if I’m in class with my phone turned off?”

“This is definitely a learning process,” Rainer said. “For us as university administrators and for the recipients of the messages.

“One of the things we all have to realize is that text messaging in an emergency is never going to be instantaneous, as it is when one individual is texting another. In fact, the more people who register for the service, the longer the interval between sending the message and the last person receiving it.”

He said the university has employed a range of emergency communications tools in addition to text messaging, including home page announcements, broadcast email, audible alerts, a network of building liaisons, the campus hotline and campus and external news media.

“Having a wide range of options for getting the word out gives us the best chance of reaching a critical mass of people in as little time as possible,” Rainer said.

The system will be tested once per semester.