How the crime alert system works
Who decides when students need to know?
After shots were fired in Mercer Village on a Wednesday night in January, it took about 45 minutes for Mercer students to receive an emergency alert via text message about the threat.
Many students and parents took to social media to raise concerns about the delay in getting an emergency alert out.
“Honestly this should serve as a wake up call. Mercer’s emergency responses are dramatically outdated and the University is unprepared for an emergency situation. It’s time to fix this,” said Christopher Kennedy in a Facebook comment to the first report The Cluster posted about the situation, which can be read here.
The day after the incident occured, Mercer University President William Underwood sent an email to students telling them that the school’s emergency alert system was going to be reviewed by an outside company.
Senior Vice President for Marketing Communications and Chief of Staff, Larry Brumley, also confirmed that two consultants reviewed the system and found that there were no technical issues with the emergency alert system.
“The decision tree was too complicated, and we’ve simplified the decision tree to get those alerts out faster,” Brumley said. “The president’s goal is to get alerts out within three minutes of getting a verified report of a threat.”
The consultants, Brumley said, helped Mercer streamline the decision process in sending out alerts and the Mercer Police department is increasing the training their officers get in sending out alerts.
Now, once the department has received word of a possible threat on or adjacent to campus, an officer will respond and verify whether it is legitimate. If they believe it is, officers will contact the dispatcher who will send an alert via Mercer’s alert system, Brumley said.
On Jan. 14, four days after the Mercer Village incident, there was an armed robbery just off Mercer’s campus in Tattnall Square Park. Even though the incident did not involve anyone related to Mercer University, an emergency alert was sent out at 1:08 p.m. after the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office reported the incident took place at 12:49 p.m.
The FBI Uniform Crime Report has not reported the violent crimes on college campuses for 2017 yet, but they listed Mercer as having four violent crimes in 2016 and two violent crimes in 2015. The FBI defines violent crimes as “those offenses which involve force or threat of force.”
All Macon undergraduate students, faculty and staff are on the emergency alert system which sends out a text if there is a verified threat. However, students do have the option of being taken off. Brumley believes that only six students on the Macon campus have opted out of the alerts.
The administration is now working on ways to alert parents when these kinds of incidents occur. Currently, if parents want to sign up, they have to send an email to the Help Desk at mercer.edu, providing their name, cell phone number, the name of their cell carrier and their child’s student ID number. The Help Desk will then manually enroll them into the system.
However, Mercer is planning on making it easier for parents to sign up for text alerts.
“Beginning next fall we’ll have a means where parents can go onto a website and enroll themselves in it,” Brumley said.
Mercer Police Chief Gary Collins said the university works with his department and the student body to regularly check in on the campus’ safety measures. The walk is mainly about checking the blue emergency lights around campus that students can use to call MerPo in an urgent situation.
“We do a safety walk every semester with SGA, physical plant, vice president of student affairs and myself, and we go around and check and make sure that all of (the blue emergency lights) are working,” he said.
Another way the department is ramping up its security is by implementing a radio system in which they can directly contact the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office, Collins said.
“That’s very important,” he said. “If they’re our back up (and) they come, they’ll know what’s going on right then.”