Vanderbilt emergency alert systems: what you need to know

The Vanderbilt Hustler talked to Chief Rick D. Burr of the Vanderbilt Police about the incidents and the platforms to attain information during these situations.

On Saturday, students received AlertVU emails, text messages and phone calls following two separate emergency incidents. AlertVU, Vanderbilt’s primary emergency alert system, is a platform that provides students, faculty and staff with the information about these incidents and instructions on how to remain safe. Students and staff are automatically enrolled in AlertVU through the YES system and will get text messages, calls and emails during an emergency.

“[AlertVU] is a platform that we take seriously and only use when it’s absolutely necessary for the safety of our community, students, staff and faculty, so just to pay attention when those are coming in,” said VUPD Assistant Chief of Police Rick D. Burr. “I know with the amount of emails, text messages and everything going on in the world it’s easy to brush those off, but pay attention when those come out and follow the instructions, because we really do try to provide some guidance on how to remain safe during those situations.”

According to Burr, as soon as VUPD dispatch receives a report of the incident, they send the information to Emergency Preparedness, which is a division of Vanderbilt University Public Safety, which then sends the alerts to students via AlertVU as soon as possible. In Saturday’s emergency situations, seven minutes passed between when dispatch found out about the events and when students received the AlertVU notifications.

“What we try to do, and what’s important from our perspective as a police department, is not only letting the campus community know that something has occurred, but also having enough basic details to be able to give some guidance as well, whether that be to seek shelter or to avoid that area of campus,” Burr said. “We don’t always have all the answers and all the information that shortly after an incident has occurred, but we try to get as much out there as possible in a short amount of time.”

In addition to AlertVU, students receive email security notices after incidents that occur on campus, such as sexual assaults.

“A lot of the sexual assaults that are either reported through the department or campus security authorities result in security notices. Again, this is a way for us to share information to let the campus community make informed decisions about their safety,” Burr said. “So, the security notice platform is another one, and News and Communications does a good job updating the Vanderbilt homepage as well. There’s also the AlertVU page that they could go to, log on to and get additional updates if any exist as well.”

In other emergencies, such as severe weather situations, tornado sirens are used to alert the campus community. Police have the ability to broadcast verbal messages over the sirens, but Burr said there are challenges with doing that.

“It’s hard to say [when it would be appropriate],” Burr said. “I’m thinking of an active shooter situation. One of the challenges that I think law enforcement has is that if you have somebody running around armed on your campus, you have to be cognizant of the fact that you’re trying to provide details to the campus community, yet you don’t want to put out a message necessarily over loud speakers where you know somebody running around with a weapon is going to hear that we’re telling people to shelter in place or stay away from this area as well. Those sirens are really and most importantly used for severe weather, which we see our fair share of in the middle of Tennessee.”

Although Vanderbilt students are automatically enrolled in AlertVU, parents and emergency contacts are unable to sign up on their own. However, students are able to upload their parents’ contact information through YES.

“I would recommend that all of our students take some time and visit the website for specific instructions on emergency notifications,” Burr said. “The YES platform that the students have available to them, there’s places for several different telephone numbers. Our emergency notifications are uploaded on a regular basis, so if they were to go in and put a parent’s cell phone number into one of those fields, then they would be able to receive those alerts as well.”

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