A TU Alert was sent out to students Saturday night, reporting a shooting off-campus. This is one of the many alerts the Temple community receives each year, but many students express concerns about the TU Alert system’s consistency, timeliness and accuracy.
Junior electrical engineering major Cheryse Greenidge has lived in on-campus residence halls since her freshman year. TU Alerts are sent to her phone, but she often wonders how effective they are for people living off-campus.
Greenidge said she remembers receiving a TU Alert the day after several students were assaulted on Oxford Street near Broad in October 2016 in flash mob attacks. There were other times, including a protest along North Broad Street in February 2017, which she only found out about through Facebook.
“There were incidents where I thought I would receive a TU Alert but didn’t,” Greenidge said.
This type of uncertainty is a recurring theme among students; they rely on social media or other mobile apps to learn about emergency situations nearby, rather than a TU Alert.
The university has used TU Alerts to notify students and staff of emergencies on or around Main and Health Sciences campuses since 2007.
Alerts aren’t sent out for every incident around Main Campus because Temple Police only wants to alert people if there is an unresolved danger, Executive Director of Campus Safety Services Charlie Leone said.
“Many times when we receive calls, it’s not a life-threatening situation,” Leone said. “Each call receives a police response, but in an emergency, an alert will be sent out to students.”
Leone added that TU Alerts are usually “very accurate” in terms of location and expedient in getting a notification to students.
Every member of the Temple community with a “temple.edu” email address receives a TU Alert. Students, faculty and staff can also subscribe to receive TU Alerts via text messages through TU Portal.
Leone said there are four dispatchers who receive confirmation calls from on-scene officers to send an alert to students. The most common crime reported around campus is theft.
“Overall it’s a pretty robust system,” Leone said. “It’s very well established.”
Still, students continue to use alternative resources as a source of emergency alerts, like the app Wildfire. It has been used to document events around Main Campus for more than a year, and students can submit posts or receive notifications about incidents they witnessed or heard about from other students.
The incidents reported on the app are not “vetted” by police, Leone said. He added that if students are going to post in the Wildfire app, they should still notify the police to ensure they respond to emergencies.
Junior nursing major Sarah Dawson still receives TU Alerts, but also uses Wildfire because she thinks it’s “more detailed.”
“There was an incident where one of my friends had been burglarized,” Dawson said. “I thought I would receive a TU Alert, but I didn’t. Even if an event isn’t considered ‘life-threatening,’ I’d like to receive an alert for it.”
Other universities, like Pennsylvania State University, have intricate systems that alert students of emergencies. While it still sends out alerts, the university has a full website that allows students to search incidents by specifics like date and whether a situation was solved. It also lists the specifics of an incident, like descriptions of possible suspects or particulars of a crime.
Campus Safety Services’ website has a crime log that lists the type of crime, the date it occurred and the status of investigation. It includes all the crimes within Temple Police’s patrol zone.
Leone said there are bi-weekly meetings with university officials to consider changes to the TU Alert system. Over time, they review the positives and negatives of the system and update the criteria where they see fit.
He added there are backup plans for the possibility of the computer system crashing, like officers, information technology support and strategic communication officials being able to send out an alert.
Though they have not discussed developing a website, Leone said that may be something to review in future meetings. Temple Police has discussed developing a mobile app to communicate with the Temple community, but has no updated plans in place.
“Our goal right now is to hit right at the intersection of timeliness and accuracy,” Leone said. “We have to put [an alert] out knowing that there may be more information to follow.”