New technology to provide rapid response in emergencies



The University of Notre Dame is augmenting its emergency communications capabilities this summer with a technology service called Connect-ED, a system that allows communication administrators to contact large numbers of students and employees quickly through multiple electronic technologies.

Early technical testing is complete, and the Universitys goal is to have the system fully operational by the time students return to campus for fall classes.

Connect-ED solves the fundamental problem of reaching a highly mobile group of students through multiple communications channels,said Gordon Wishon, Notre Dames associate vice president, associate provost and chief information officer.Connect-ED can extract contact information from campus electronic directories and, on demand, send a voice or text message to a database of cell phones, office phones, home phones and e-mail addresses.

In addition, Connect-ED, a service of The NTI Group in Sherman Oaks,Calif., can send the same message to up to six different telephone numbers per person and do text messaging, text-to-speech recognition, and voice-to-text recognition.

Part of the Connect-ED effort this summer will be determining procedures for obtaining and retaining multiple faculty, staff and student contact points and setting University policies on how those contact points may be used.

Reaching all students on a university campus in time of an emergency has long been a challenge, according to Wishon. While a majority of Notre Dame undergraduateslive on campus, they always are on the move and their primary means of communication usually is a personal cell phone.

Faculty and staff also frequently use personal cell phones on campus and when commuting to and from work,Wishon said.

This springs tragic mass shooting at Virginia Tech both saddened and startled those of us in higher education,he added.We had an emergency communications project in the works, but Virginia Tech was an eye-opener. A lot of universities, Notre Dame included, put emergency communications systems at the top their IT project lists.

Wishon believes that Notre Dame is in a good position to take advantage of the Connect-ED technology. Last year, the university installed a distributed cellular antenna system that enables participating wireless providers, such as AT&T and Verizon, to cover the campus with strong cellular signals. Notre Dame, in cooperation with Comcast, also installed cable TV in every on-campus residence hall room, and it maintains a robust wired and wireless data network and e-mail systems.

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