Article By Meredith Steinberg
The expansion of university alert and security systems is important in keeping up with current technology and various threats to the safety of communities. New York University’s Department of Public Safety has employed a valuable and extensive program that continues to be updated as the effectiveness of their alerts are assessed. The NYU alert system, owned by Rave Mobile Safety, works to notify over 80,000 people, including members of the student body and faculty, and categorizes students by location. This is integral for a school that has fourteen campuses in eleven countries around the world.
One tool that is valuable in university everyday life is the Safe NYU mobile app, which has many components that include preparedness tips, emergency alerts, transportation information, and resources to contact for various emergency situations. The app also provides a mobile Blue Light, which will pinpoint a student’s location and call NYU Public Safety. Other key features include the ability to talk and/or message with an emergency responder, and having the option to send one’s location to a friend while walking home alone. Since about 17,000 of the 80,000+ NYU population have Safe NYU, the safety department makes a constant effort to encourage students to get the app or at least to sign up for alerts in their community.
A key system utilized by the NYU Emergency Preparedness department to enhance their alert system is Dataminr, which is able to sort through millions of social media posts and platforms to detect high-impact events and critical information. They sort through information coming from sources such as the public, celebrities, and local news. Dataminr has access to an entire pipeline of thoughts and events, which allows them to examine the narrative of information; furthermore, they are able to distinguish events and provide a potential impact of such occurrences. These updates can range from level of emergency, such as a vehicle accident to a large-scale attack. A distinguishing aspect of Dataminr is that it is often faster at relaying news than local stations because they are able to pinpoint an event and make the initial heads-up. Less time is spent fact-checking the events, which allows them to be sent out quickly, but with lower reliability. Nevertheless, the Department of Public Safety at NYU uses Dataminr to get fast information for time-sensitive alerts.
Once information is received by NYU, the department must act quickly to create a quality message that includes four key components: (1) The facts of the situation (what they do know); (2) What the safety department does not know; (3) What they are doing about it; (4) Who else needs to know this information. Everyone signed up for alerts will receive the same message, while executives at the school, such as the President and Vice President, will get a separate email with critical response information. The most important part of these alerts is making sure they are sent out rapidly and contain helpful and concise information.
The safety department is currently looking into new ways to expand their alert system through digital signage, which is software that is able to give mass notifications in pressing situations on many devices such as smartphones and computers. The current use of softwares such as Dataminr put the NYU alert system in a strong place for emergency preparedness and can be a good example for other schools that would like to improve their current safety procedures and programs.