by Tatiana Torres
On Sunday, Nov. 3, a global email was sent notifying The University of Tampa community that there were three to four shots fired at the corner of Ashley and Kennedy Boulevard at about 12:24 a.m. The email also included a description of the suspects.
The email read “UT Alert: Three to four shots were fired at the corner of Ashley and Kennedy Boulevard at about 12:24 a.m. Tampa Police Department (TPD) reports two suspects, both black males, were heading westbound on Kennedy Boulevard towards campus. The first suspect was wearing a black and white referee-type shirt, and the second was wearing a soccer jersey. There are no reports of any injuries. Please call 911 or Campus Safety at 257-7777 with any information.”
Monnie Wertz, assistant vice president of Operations and Planning, explained the Spartan Mobile Alerts (SMART) and how it’s used to communicate with the UT community.
“The university uses a product called RAVE which allows us to communicate quickly with the university’s community on multiple platforms,” said Wertz. “One of those platforms is text messaging which we have branded as Spartan Mobile Alert (SMART). Students, faculty and staff are encouraged to sign up for SMART alerts by going to SpartanWeb and entering their cell phone number. It is a free service, and is solely for safety alerts and advisories.”
Yet, some UT students find that they should receive more alerts about the occurrences near UT.
Faith Rister, sophomore journalism major, said, “I feel like the alerts we get can be good, like the one we got the other weekend about the shooting,” said Rister. “But I also feel like there’s a lot of stuff that we don’t get notified [about] that we should.”
UT takes the safety of its students, faculty, and staff very seriously. The university offers a free emergency text messaging service called SMART, to ensure safety on campus. This service is used for on-campus related emergencies that could endanger the welfare of those on campus.
“The SMART text messaging service is just one of the methods the university will use to communicate emergency information to students, faculty, and staff. If appropriate, global emails, global voicemails, BlackBoard, the telephone switchboard, flyers, local media, and other communication tools will also be used,” according to the ut.edu.
SMART text messages will only be sent to alert or advise students and faculty of emergency situations. Users will receive messages within seconds of their transmission. All SMART messages will originate from either the number 67283 or 226787. These are common shortcodes used by RAVE, the vendor that provides SMART.
Nevertheless, Wertz stated that while the emergency products and procedures are under constant review, there are no plans to change or modify the RAVE system or the process for notification.
“However, we seek to use SMART judiciously as we do not want it to become commonplace or routine,” said Wertz. “We want UT community members to take careful notice when they receive a text, as we have determined that a serious, ongoing threat exists that may require immediate action on their part.”
Furthermore, Rister also shares her concerns about the system. “I think we shouldn’t just be notified if it has to do with UT because people could be off-campus or near the area and not know anything is happening because they only get notified about things happening at the university,” said Rister.
A small group from the Emergency Communications Group, which is made up of representatives from Information Technology and Security (ITS), Dean of Students, Residence Life, Public Information, Student Care and Advocacy, Facilities, Campus Safety, Business Services, and Operations and Planning, makes the determination to send the alert and draft its contents.
If a pattern of criminal or dangerous activity is noted, this group may also notify the university community of the observed pattern and include pertinent crime prevention strategies and tips.
Text messages are limited by character number so the information selected is directly related to what is needed for a person to make decisions regarding their own personal safety. If additional information is required, as with the shooting downtown recently, the text message may make reference to an additional email which may contain more information about the threat and/or prevention strategies. The message may reference information posted on the UT website.
Marimyr Bosque, junior allied health major, believes that no matter how scary or serious the information may be, students, faculty and staff need to be informed at all times.
“I do not think they should censor the information they will send in order to make it more appealing to students,” said Bosque. “I do appreciate the fact that the subject heading clearly states ‘UTAlert’ that way I know that it is something that I should urgently read.”
UT urges community members to save these numbers in their contact list so they can be assured it is an authentic SMART message. As an important reminder, the UT website is the primary and most complete resource for current emergency information.
For any concerns about the authenticity of a UT Alert message, contact UT Campus Safety.
Tatiana Torres can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org