Social Media causes emergency messaging mishap for university.
THE NEED TO QUICKLY ALERT constituents to campus emergencies has led many college and university leaders to install a range of solutions. Webster University (Mo.) personnel saw firsthand the power of these systems to disseminate information, especially when combined with social media, when a test message about a shooter on its Orlando, Fla., campus was sent on April 1.
Fortunately, there was no shooter. Unfortunately, it was April Fools' Day, which led to some confusion.
Through a function of e2campus, the emergency messaging platform Webster uses, the notification went not only to the single test cell phone as planned but to the university's Facebook page and Twitter account as well. Because Webster's main website was not changed automatically by e2campus, anyone trying to verify the "tweet" by checking the main website was left wondering. Adding an alert to the home page is a manual process and part of Webster's emergency response plan, explains Larry Haffner, vice president of IT.
Some of Webster's Twitter followers passed along the message, which quickly reached an estimated 5,000 people. "We learned that Twitter works very well. It got the message out and got it out fast," says Patrick Powers, interactive media manager and overseer of the university's Twitter presence.
An effort then followed to recall the message and have people delete their "retweets." As Webster had over 500 followers, the Twitter equivalent of online friends, on April 1, the message could have reached even more people--if some people hadn't thought it might be the work of a hacker. Yet after the recall was issued, the incident reached a broader audience as people began speculating about whether the first message had been a bad joke.
"The copy used for training sessions will not in any way refer to an actual emergency. And we probably won't test again on April Fools'," says Polly Burtch, director of news and public information. Burtch personally phoned Twitter followers who are reporters to explain the situation as events unfolded.
"We have stepped back and reviewed the usefulness [of broadcasting messages on Twitter]," Haffner says, adding that it could still be useful because Webster has 100 campuses worldwide.
More than 2,785 people--community members and parents as well as students, faculty, and staff have signed up to receive Webster's emergency broadcasts via cell phone. Haffner says the system is used solely for weather and life safety messages.