Central Michigan University police chief Bill Yeagley is confident in the Central Alert system, although some students are questioning its effectiveness following the Jan. 16 abduction on campus.
During a news conference Thursday, Yeagley said the alert was sent out in a timely manner.
“If CMU officers were interviewing the victim, we know that we need to get the information and send it out,” Yeagley said. “Other police agencies don’t have to send out information. If our detective was doing the questioning, it makes it easier for us to get information out in a more timely manner, but because we are going through another agency, it took longer.”
Though Yeagley has confidence in the system, he said there are ways to improve promoting the Central Alert system.
“I’m very confident that the university has done a good job promoting the alert system, but that being said, we can always do better,” he said. “We could do it 100 different ways, and someone may still miss it. We are always looking at new ways to promote (the system) so it is an effective tool to get people the information they need to have.”
Students can choose to be alerted by phone, text message, email or any combination of the three.
Yeagley said roughly 1,000 people have signed up for alerts since the abduction, and 250 have called to change how they are notified. He also addressed the flaw of the text messaging system.
“Text message alerts allow for roughly 125 characters,” Yeagley said. “For example, if we had an active shooter on campus, we would send out a text saying ‘Active shooter on campus at this location. Leave the area immediately.’ Last week’s incident required a lot more information. It meant we couldn’t send it over text, so we did it over a voice message instead.”
Yeagley said it’s important for students to share their information with the university so they can receive the alerts.
“The only way we have the information to notify students is if they actually share it with us and say that they want the update,” Yeagley said. “The information about the alert system is presented at every freshman orientation. There are handouts that show students where they need to go to sign up as well.”
With last week’s incident in mind, Yeagley said he wants students to think about about how they receive their alerts.
“If (students) are asleep and there is a major emergency on this campus, what is the best method of notification that will wake them up and get them the information they need? For some, it may be a home phone, for others it could be a cell phone,” he said. “I just want them to think it through so they are making a good decision on how they want to be notified.”
As for the timeliness for the alert, Yealgey said the nature of the situation made it very hard for the university police to acquire the correct information.
The abduction happened at 9:30 p.m. and police agencies were not notified of the incident until much later. It wasn’t until 11:07 p.m. that the SAC was confirmed as the site of the abduction. From there, university police officers had to work with the sheriff’s department to get information, which takes time, Yeagley said.
Some students are unsure about why they did not receive an alert last week.
“I was one of those people who always get the alerts, but did not receive it this past week,” Lapeer junior Ellen Meinecke said. “I love the alert system; it makes me feel as though I am up to date on what is happening and able to keep myself safe. I just want to know why I didn’t get notified this past time.”
There were also students who were unaware that they needed to sign up for emergency alerts from the university.
“Prior to what happened last week, I had no idea that I was not on the Central Alert system. I just entered my email (Tuesday) to receive alerts,” Lowell freshman Kelsey Mankel said.
While some had issues with the system, many praised its effectiveness.
“I think the system works very well. The night the abduction happened, my phone, as well as all of my roommates phones, went off at the same time, and we all got the message,” Farmington Hills junior Lindsay Soave said. “(My roommate’s) parents had signed up for alerts, too, and were alerted to what was occurring on campus.”
Some students questioned why they have to sign up for alerts and say the service should be automatic. Others appreciated the option of choosing.
“Some friends and I talked at lunch one day how some students would prefer to not be alerted for everything that happens, while others do,” Mankel said. “CMU gives us the choice to be a part of the alert system; an option that I feel is both necessary and important.”