Why emergency text system wasn't used
By Marilyn Smulders - January 14, 2009
Questions have been raised about emergency communications in the wake of an armed robbery at PCPC (Personal Computer Purchasing Centre).
Shortly after noon on Tuesday, Dalhousie University’s computer store, PCPC, was held up by a lone man who appeared to have a gun. Wearing a bandana and black sunglasses, he demanded staff fill a large Adidas gym bag with laptop computers and then fled. Campus security and Halifax Police responded immediately after store employees sounded the alarm.
No one was hurt during the incident and police assessed immediately no ongoing risk to anyone on Dalhousie’s Studley campus.
“The emergency alert message was not used in the aftermath of the robbery at PCPC, raising legitimate questions as to why not,” says Jim Vibert, assistant vice-president of Communications and Marketing at Dalhousie. “The answer is simple and complicated. The simple answer is: it wasn’t necessary and would have been inappropriate.
“The complicated answer is that the entire incident at PCPC lasted less than a minute. Staff at the store, by the way, handled the robbery exactly as they should have. Dal Security and Halifax Police responded immediately and were on the scene in a very few minutes. Police quickly determined that there was no reason to assume there was any ongoing threat to people on Dal campus. The guy was gone.”
The text message emergency system will be activated to alert users to an emergency or other situation that requires or recommends some action on their part. For example, if there was a fire on campus, an alert might read “Fire @ A&A Stay away.” Text messages are meant to be brief; the Dalhousie system is limited to 120 characters.
In the aftermath of the robbery, no action from students, faculty or staff was required or advised, says Mr. Vibert. The police had determined the risk, in this case the thief, was gone. A terse emergency message to the effect that PCPC had experienced an armed robbery would have served no purpose in terms of improving the safety of anyone, and could have unnecessarily raised anxieties.
In this case, the more complete security bulletin was posted on the main Dalhousie webpage within 90 minutes of the incident. It was followed quickly by a more complete story on Dalnews and an email from VP Academic Alan Shaver.
“These were the appropriate communications to the community,” says Mr. Vibert. “Some will disagree, and that’s OK. But, if we had to do it all over again, we’d do the same thing.”