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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University February 4, 2008 | Vol. 37 No. 20
JHMI Tests Text Messaging for Emergencies

Notification system will be used to alert all enrolled students, faculty, staff

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

A cell phone-based emergency alert system, currently in place at several Johns Hopkins campuses, will soon be fully activated for the East Baltimore and Bayview Medical Center campuses.

A second test of the medical institutions' Johns Hopkins Emergency Alerts system, launched in December, will take place on Tuesday, Feb. 12. The system is part of a larger effort to rapidly notify students, staff and faculty in the case of a major emergency. Since the shootings at Virginia Tech in April, colleges across the country have been looking at how they would get the word out quickly in the event of a similar crisis. Johns Hopkins, like many others, has concluded that text messaging is an important addition to the alert process and may be able to prevent injuries and even save lives.

"The goal is to expedite immediate notification to all enrolled employees whenever there is an identified emergency on the East Baltimore campus," said Howard Gwon, director of the Office of Emergency Management for The Johns Hopkins Hospital and the School of Medicine, who is coordinating the implementation of the JHMI system along with J. Scott McVicker, of Public Health, and Claire Bogdanski, of Nursing. "This notification will then allow employees to implement necessary steps and/or actions to protect themselves and others."

The JHEA system allows Johns Hopkins security personnel to send a text message directly to a person's cell phone if a situation develops that threatens lives and safety. The voluntary system adds new strength to the many other ways that the university and health system communicate vital information, including Web-based communication, broadcast e-mail and in-person notification.

Events that would precipitate a message include a tornado, civil disturbance, explosion, shooter or significant hazardous material release. The message will alert the person to the existence of the emergency and provide necessary information. For example, the brief text could read, "Radiation exposure or spill. Stay away from building X" or "Gunman loose on East Baltimore campus. Stay in buildings, lock or block doors until further notice." The message would also likely tell people to call a hotline number for updates or more details.

Security officials intend to activate the system and send text messages only in the event of an emergency involving an imminent potential threat or, rarely, for tests. The system will not be used to notify personnel about less serious situations, such as weather-related schedule changes.

Those enrolled in the system will receive a brief text at noon on Feb. 12 to ensure the JHEA is working as expected. To be part of the test, personnel must enroll by Feb. 11.

The system is open to all faculty, staff and students on the East Baltimore and Bayview Medical Center campuses. Registration is completely voluntary. To enroll, participants must log into the portal to enter a cell phone number and agree to the program's terms and conditions, which include the responsibility to pay their mobile service provider's usual charges for text messages received.

The Johns Hopkins Emergency Alert system was launched in September at the Homewood/Eastern/Mount Washington campuses and at the Peabody Institute.

For more information, call 410-955-HELP (4357).


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