Tuesday night’s weapons scare at the University of Northern Iowa forced officials to activate the school’s new campus-wide emergency notification system for the first time. UNI installed the system in response to recent violence on other college campuses.
Jim O’Connor, a UNI spokesman, says preliminary information shows that the automated system worked smoothly. O’Connor says the first warning of a "potential weapon" at Dancer Hall was sent by school officials around 6 p.m. The system sent e-mail, voice and text messages to students. The alert said there was a potential problem at Dancer Hall and people should stay away.
UNI’s alert system was activated about 45-minutes after police were first notified of the threat. O’Connor explains the time delay. He says police knew they needed to move quickly, but didn’t want to "Cry Wolf."
O’Connor says the dispatcher pressed the button and within one minute, his phone was ringing. O’Connor says the biggest challenge officials faced when sending the alert was developing a message that wouldn’t panic the campus community. He says it wasn’t a situation that fit neatly into a cookie cutter, as they didn’t know where the person was and if he was on his way to campus.
O’Connor says they wanted to inform people, without frightening them unnecessarily. UNI’s campus-wide alert system was recently completed. School officials tested the equipment for the first time less than two weeks ago.