Temple’s MIR3 notification system, which is used to send mass email and text alerts to students and faculty in case of emergencies, experienced an unusual delay in operation when alerting members about the school’s closure during the Jan. 28 snowstorm.
Following a terminated first message and slower than normal second message, the notification of the cancellation was reached by all 51,047 email accounts and 23,670 phone numbers on the mailing list after almost 30 minutes.
Temple’s Financial Administration and Planning representative Moira Stoddart has worked with the MIR3 notification system since it was first implemented at Temple in 2007.
Stoddart said that Temple issues and average of 20 notifications per semester and has had two such problems with the MIR3 system.
“Any time that you have that amount of traffic going through cellphone carriers, you are going to see a delay,” Stoddart said. “What that means for us is that a notification that usually takes seven minutes to get out, it will take roughly 13 minutes.”
The last time Temple had an issue with the MIR3 notification system was on August 23, 2011 when a 5.9 magnitude earthquake, centered in Virginia, affected the Philadelphia area. Jim Creedon, the senior vice president for construction, facilities and operations said he thinks this event similarly overwhelmed the system with an abnormally high volume of citywide data activity.
The MIR3 system has an estimated total delivery time of around seven to nine minutes by going down the list of email accounts and phone numbers on the mailing list.
“This means that some individuals begin receiving messages within two minutes,” Stoddart said, “and the last person may take seven minutes to receive the same message.”
The MIR3 uses a ‘round-robin’ system, which each recipient populates randomly, but the initiator of the notification is always the last to receive the message, Stoddart said. This is the notification of final delivery.
“This is how we are able to determine an accurate delivery time,” she said. “I am always the last to receive the message.”
Creedon said Temple officials had agreed to cancel class by around 11:30 a.m. with the first message being sent out at 12:06 p.m. After eight minutes, officials believed the message hadn’t worked so they terminated it.
“We saw that the messages weren’t moving,” Creedon said. “I remember I was looking at my phone waiting for it.”
They proceeded to resend the notification at 12:15 p.m. but officials didn’t receive the notification of final delivery until 12:31 p.m. The 15 minutes the second message took to finish was still “a little higher than norm,” Creedon said.
The university pays around $75,000 a year to keep the program.
The process of selecting which emergency situation should be delivered by MIR3 is up to Temple’s officials.
“When an emergency situation is reported around campus, the Temple Police gets the key decision-makers on one conference call so they can determine the content of the notification,” Stoddart said.
These stakeholders include Temple University Communications, Computer Services, SFO Office and Student Affairs.
Creedon said an After Action Review will be performed by the necessary university departments to examine the university’s response to the snowstorm.
Marcus McCarthy and Eddie Barrenechea can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.