Issue: SDSU did not make use of the Campus Alert System to inform students of an armed, repeat assailant on campus.
In the fall of 2008, SDSU implemented the Campus Alert System. The system was designed to reach students in case of an emergency and was in part a reaction to the Virginia Tech massacre. Emergencies, however, were not exclusive to human violence and could also range from weather emergencies like blizzards or tornadoes to infrastructure problems like power outages.
Alerts reach students by using not only e-mail notifications but also cell phone alerts by either text or voice.
“E-mail can’t always be accessible, so it’s important that there will be more than one option for students,” said Michael Adelaine, vice president for information technology, in a March 12, 2008 issue of The Collegian.
SDSU recently faced two sexual assaults believed to be perpetrated by a single, armed assailant. At no point was the Campus Alert System used.
The second incident happened in the very early morning of April 7. In the late afternoon of that same day, university officials began hanging up posters encouraging students to stay safe and be on the lookout for a person matching the perpetrator’s description. At 10:30 p.m. that night, an announcement notifying students of the incidents was placed on MyStateOnline under the Emergency/Alert Notification heading followed by “ALERT: Important Message Regarding Campus Safety.” At the same time, an e-mail was sent to student instructing them to check MyStateOnline.
If officials found the issue urgent enough to hang posters on doors of residence halls, the Union and other buildings, why wasn’t the Campus Alert System used?
If officials thought the matter was a safety concern great enough to place the announcement of the incident under the heading “”ALERT: Important Message Regarding Campus Safety,” why didn’t they use the emergency alert system?
Yes, an e-mail not sent via the Campus Alert System went out to students, but as university officials admit, students do not always have access to e-mail.
The university’s official reason for not using the Campus Alert System was that the system is for incidents that “immediately affect the day-to-day operations of the university,” according to Executive Assistant to the President Bob Otterson.
From this statement, is seems an armed assailant sneaking up on victims and assaulting them with “physical contact of a sexual nature” does not have an immediate affect on the daily operation on campus. But Otterson’s statement contradicts the actions taken by the university. A sexual assaulter, though striking at night, does indeed change how campus operates by affecting the students, faculty and anyone else here late at night, and the actions of the university support this. Everything the university did to alert students (short of the Campus Alert System being used) shows that officials deemed the situation dangerous enough take measures-albethey insufficient measures-informing students to take precautions, thereby affecting how students and faculty behave and operate on campus.
The truly effective way to inform students would and should have been done using the Campus Alert System. A chain of incidents such as these are the epitome of when the system should be used. By contacting students via cell phone and e-mail, the university could have reached everyone instantly.
In our experiences, students rarely check MyStateOnline, and though an e-mail was sent out to students, the effectiveness of that e-mail is dependent on the frequency that the student checks it or if the student is near an Internet connection. Cell phones, however, are owned by nearly everyone, and are usually the best means of contact.
What if a student had left campus and had no Internet connection from the time the posters were hung up to the time the e-mail notification was sent out? What if that student, oblivious to the danger of an assailant, naively walked back to his or her dorm alone and was assaulted-or worse. Thankfully, a scenario like this did not happen but easily could have. Had it happened, the university’s lack of proper action would have been to blame.
The Campus Alert System should have been used, and by not doing so, the university put students in danger. The campus cannot call something an emergency and take extensive but insufficient means to alert students yet still argue that this is not a situation in which the alert system should be used. If a situation like this does not warrant the use of the Campus Alert System, why have it in the first place?
Stance: We understand the university has only our safety in mind and wants us to be safe. We also understand that situations like these assaults do not happen often, and handling them is not easy; however, these incidents are the perfect example of when the Campus Alert System should be used. In the future, the university should make use of the Campus Alert System.