Reverse 911 Emergency-Alert System Criticized

By Christina Winesickle

INDIANA, Pa — William E. Murray, 48, a senior nursing student, remembers well his commute from Punxsutawney to Indiana University of Pennsylvania on the morning of Jan. 28. The usual 45-minute drive took him two hours.

The roads were dangerous due to the ice and snow,” said Murray during a March 25 interview in Stapleton Library. “Trees and wires scattered the sides of the road. I counted 13 accidents on my way to IUP.”

After reaching campus, Murray sat in Johnson Hall with half of his classmates, waiting for class to begin.

At 10:10 a.m., his cell phone vibrated. A text message from the university on the emergency-notification system notified him that classes were cancelled for the day.

The belated cancellation frustrated Murray.

“I don’t think the person who is the responsible party to make decisions to close IUP was aware of what was going on outside,” said Murray. “There was just as much ice at 7 a.m. as 10 a.m. If they were doing their job, they would have cancelled at 7 a.m.”

Murray said the university should rely more on human communication and less on technology like Reverse 911, IUP’s emergency-notification system.

During an April 13 interview in his office at university police station, William P. Montgomery, director of campus safety, defended the system. He said the class-cancellation alert was delayed by a technical glitch. The system shut down when the university attempted to send an earlier text message. That’s why students did not receive the text message until 10:10 a.m., Montgomery said.

Montgomery added that the university has developed a back-up system in case the system crashes again. It supplements the five ways that messages about campus emergencies can be sent — by text message, voice message, email, IUP’s information line, and the university’s Web site. And another option soon may be installed.

“The university is also considering installing a public address system and placing speakers on campus to announce emergencies to students,” Montgomery said.

Barbara L. Miller, 54, a senior nursing major, is registered with the Reverse 911 system. But she said the university is not using it effectively.

During a March 25 interview in Stapleton Library, Miller said students should have been notified by Reverse 911 on April 2 when an IUP student was shot by another student at 2:08 a.m. on Carpenter Avenue outside of the Coney Island Bar and Restaurant. News media were notified before the IUP students, Murray said, adding that students should be contacted before new media.

Montgomery said students were not alerted because the off-campus shooting was not a life-threatening emergency.

“The shooting wasn’t a random type thing,” said Montgomery. “It focused more on the students involved. The shooter wasn’t shooting random people. It was a contained situation.”

Miller disagreed.

“If it it’s a safety issue such as a weapon, the university should notify students immediately,” said Miller. “If someone is threatening bodily harm, we should be notified.


Sidebar: How to Sign Up

William P. Montgomery, IUP director of public safety, said the best way to get involved in the campus emergency-notification process is to register for Reverse 911.

All IUP email addresses and campus desk phones have been added to the emergency-notification system, he said. Additional numbers can be registered online with the University Records and System Assistant, or URSA.

Parents interested in registering must ask their enrolled students to register for them by adding a “home phone number.”

Here’s how to sign up for Reverse 911 and, the accompanying text-messaging system:

  • Go to and log on
  • From main menu click “Emergency Alert Information (Reverse 911)”
  • Click on “add information”
  • Enter at least one contact number and click “add information”
  • You will receive a prompt that your information was successfully added.
  • Click on “view information”
  • Click on “test text message”
  • You should receive a text message. If not contact 724-357-3201.

Registrants have two options to receive IUP emergency notifications:

  1. Call the test-messaging support system at 877-276-7266 and ask to have your cell phone number added to the system.
  2. Send an email message to with name, cell phone number and the request “please opt my number back into the system.”

Additionally, students may receive emergency information by the following media:

  • IUP information phone line: 724-357-7538 (operates 24 hours a day)
  • Newspaper: The Indiana Gazette and its Web site
  • Radio: WDAD-AM 1450; WCCS-AM 1160; U-92 FM 92.5; KDKA-AM 1020; WTAE-AM 1250
  • Television: KDKA-TV (Channel 2); WTAE-TV (Channel 4); WJAC-TV (Channel 6); WPXI-TV (Channel 11)
  • IUP’s Web site:
  • Reverse 911

Source: IUP University Police, University Towers, 850 Maple St., Indiana, Pa 15705, 724-357-2141

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