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Published in News Stories on October 01, 2015
An Oct. 2 test of the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s Alert U notification system will target first-year School of Medicine students. In an actual extreme emergency, all Medical Center employees and students will receive an alert via text, email or phone call.
An Oct. 2 test of the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s Alert U notification system will target first-year School of Medicine students. In an actual extreme emergency, all Medical Center employees and students will receive an alert via text, email or phone call.

Extreme emergency? UMMC will Alert U

Media Contact: Ruth Cummins at 601-984-1104 or ricummins@umc.edu.

Which places the University of Mississippi Medical Center in more peril - a gunman roaming the hallways, or a roaring tornado on the ground, bearing down on campus?

They can be equally dangerous, says Jonathan Wilson, the Medical Center's chief administrative officer. "The two things that worry me the most are an active shooter on campus, and a tornado headed our way," he said. "Those are two things we don't see coming."

But as soon as a dire threat is known, the Medical Center will get word to students and employees through the Alert U emergency notification system. Their contact information - most importantly, a cell phone number - needs to be current and in the Medical Center's database so that they can rapidly receive critical emergency information through text, email or phone call.

Wilson
Wilson

"Especially given recent events, this is very important," said Wilson, referring to the Sept. 14 shooting of a Delta State University professor in his campus office.

The notifications are necessary to ensure all students and employees are aware of unfolding situations that are a threat to their safety so that they can take appropriate action. Alert U notifications will only be used in the event of a substantial emergency, such as a gunman on campus or extremely severe weather, Wilson said. 

On Oct. 2, a limited test of Alert U will target first-year students in the School of Medicine. They'll receive an Alert U message via text and email at 10 a.m. - and if they don't get it, it's because their cell phone number and/or email address in their Medical Center records aren't current.

"If your cell phone number has changed, you should go into My U student web portal and update it as soon as possible to ensure you receive alerts," said Jason Smith, UMMC manager of emergency services. "It behooves you to enter all the information that can be entered."

Employees can check their information for accuracy, or add their cell phone number, through the employee directory accessed on the Intranet home page. Cell phone numbers are not published externally.

Alert U isn't new to the Medical Center, but it's been improved to cross multiple platforms in reaching the campus community. Those changes come as the 10,000-employee Medical Center is introducing new emergency codes that are broadcast overhead in all hospital buildings.

Aligning itself with the newest and best health-care practices nationally, the Medical Center is introducing three new codes and revising two of the existing five codes, Smith said. Those codes range from blue, for a patient medical emergency, to orange, for a hazardous materials incident.

Alert U, however, is reserved for emergencies with potential to affect the entire Medical Center community, Wilson said. And as technology rapidly changes, the Medical Center's methods of notification are keeping pace.

Smith
Smith

"Whether it's a text, email or phone call, something should happen on a device that you carry on your person or are sitting nearby," Smith said. "With the increase in the amount of personal technology that people are carrying, it's important to get the information out as quickly as possible. Personal technology is a conduit for us."

Alert U notifications are especially critical for employees and the Medical Center's 3,011 students taking classes in outlying buildings that don't have overhead speaker systems, Smith said. "And, the visitors to our hospitals don't get Alert U. They'll get that information via the overhead speakers. This way, everybody should be aware."

"A lot of this can turn into background noise, but we're stressing its importance," Wilson said.

There's no overhead speaker system in the School of Health Related Professions, which enrolls 640-plus students, said Dr. Steve Watson, associate dean for student services and associate professor of health sciences.

"The Alert U system is very important for us," he said. "It gives our students and faculty an opportunity to be empowered if there's an emergency situation, and it streamlines our campus emergency communications."

In the wake of the DSU shooting and a situation this fall at Mississippi State University, in which an allegedly suicidal student was rumored to have a gun, "I've been asked by students and faculty and staff whether we have an alert system," Watson said. "They want to be reassured. We've been incredibly blessed not to have to use it in a frequent manner."

Alert U is intended to notify the campus community of dire emergencies, Wilson said. In the event of a major event, UMMC's social media outlets will be a timely source of information for those outside the Medical Center. The main institutional Twitter account is @UMMCNews.

Through posters around campus and other communication, the Medical Center is educating employees and students on their best plan of action should the campus be threatened by either an active shooter or extreme severe weather. Remember three words if you're alerted to, or spot, someone with a gun, Wilson said: Run, hide, fight.

"Run, then call 911," he said. "If you can't run, then hide. Get out of sight. As a last resort, fight. Use anything available to you as a weapon."

If the National Weather Service issues a tornado warning and the twister is moving toward campus, students and employees will receive an Alert U notification, Wilson said. Everyone should seek shelter in an interior room away from windows, and in patient care areas, employees should protect patients as appropriate, he said.

Watson said students and employees should be prepared to receive Alert U messages. "This system improves emergency team response and coordination and allows for consistent, concise emergency messages," he said.

"It allows us to meet any type of disaster from an information standpoint. Knowledge is power."