Thursday, February 2, 2012

Alert Carolina versus Hawk Alert - use of social networking sites

I usually have Twitter up during the day because people in my field of work seem to feel the need to tweet continuously about new discoveries and research papers. By chance, I also subscribed to news from my one of my old universities, the University of Iowa. Usually, the Iowa tweets tend to deal with athletes signing contracts, lawsuits involving the university and other news that is really more important to faithful and engaged alumni, among whom I do not count myself.
This afternoon, I all of a sudden saw three messages from Hawk Alert. Turns out they seemed to have a robbery near campus, in which a middle-aged man was threatening with a knife and demanded a phone. The messages provided a fairly detailed description of the suspect and his route off campus.
This got me thinking about the alert system at UNC-Chapel Hill. I do not live anywhere near the campus and also do not tend to hang out on campus after hours, so most emergencies are not relevant to me. But as a regular reader of the DTH (Daily Tarheel) I notice more complaints than compliments about Alert Carolina.
One of the more recent complaints listed in the DTH is here. The complaint dealt with a failure to notify the students as on campus residents about a violent crime on campus.
Similar to UNC-CH, Iowa also has the text message option and will not publicly post the phone number provided for the alert messages, ensuring that privacy requests by students are honored. But to the best of my knowledge (and I did check the Facebook pages listed for UNC-CH here), Alert Carolina does not provide the option to get alert messages through Facebook or Twitter. A quick search revealed that Hawk Alert (as does the Carolina Alert system for the University of South Carolina) alert subscribers through Facebook. I just received an update through Facebook at home that the Iowa suspect is still at large and the event is under investigation.
With so many students on Facebook and many teens moving to Twitter (see recent article here), it stands to reason that social networking could be used to supplement Alert Carolina. This would bring UNC-CH in line with other universities and may help alert additional people. How often do you turn off your cell phone while in class or at a meeting, but you still have your computer running to take notes or respond to email? Using social networking sites would also enable people, not directly enrolled at UNC-CH, such as parents or alumni to become aware of events on campus. Yes, I was not directly affected by the attempted robbery in Iowa City, but if I was a parent with a student at U-Iowa, I would feel better knowing that in case of an emergency, I could get updates through Facebook or Twitter rather than rely on the news every 30 minutes or trying to call a student or worse an Information Office that is most likely overloaded with phone calls.
Of course before we tackle Alert Carolina and Social Networking, the coverage in the DTH suggests that we need to first define when we actually issue an alert message. It seems that students and student journalists feel that UNC-CH has some catching up and learning to do.

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