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Officials: Buckeye Alert system to become opt-out by 2011

Just days after a bomb threat shut down much of Ohio State’s Columbus campus and prompted an FBI investigation, university officials said they were finalizing plans for a revamped emergency notification system that would automatically enroll all students beginning in 2011 unless they opt out.

Officials said Friday that the decision is not a reaction to the bomb threat and the timing is coincidence.

However, the change came amid complaints from students and families who said they were enrolled in the subscriber-only emergency notification system known as Buckeye Alert — which sends emergency updates through text message, e-mail or phone call — but never got the message about the bomb threat Tuesday.

“We’ve been working on (the change) for about … two and a half years now, and we’re getting very, very close to getting that finalized,” said Bob Armstrong, director of Emergency Management and Fire Prevention at OSU.

Once the system is converted to automatic enrollment, all students attending the main and regional OSU campuses will be enrolled to receive alerts; they will be able to opt out of the system. Armstrong said officials haven’t decided when staff and faculty would be enrolled in the system.

The switch comes as OSU renegotiates its contract with Twenty First Century Communications, the provider of the emergency alert system. The new contract is set to be finished in December and will change the way OSU pays for the Buckeye Alert System.

Armstrong said that OSU might pay a little more for the contract switch.

Under the new contract, the university will pay $1.25 per person enrolled in the system each year. Under the contract in place now, OSU pays about $20,000 a year, in addition to $7,000 to $10,000 each time the system is activated, Armstrong said.

He still encourages students to enroll in the Buckeye Alert system before the opt-in system is converted to an opt-out program.

“Don’t wait until it becomes an opt-out (system),” Armstrong said. “Sign up now.”

The bomb scare last week encouraged many to do just that. Within 24 hours of the threat, more than 12,000 students subscribed to receive Buckeye Alerts, adding to the 15,000 students who were already enrolled.

Even before authorities finished their search for explosives on campus last Tuesday, officials sent a campus-wide e-mail encouraging students to sign up for the alert system.

The switch will be a mark of success for Micah Kamrass, president of Undergraduate Student Government, who said his organization has been pushing for the change for about two years. The change was also part of his election platform, but he said the switch won’t be a cure-all for security issues on campus.

“There’s always more to do,” Kamrass said. “When there’s still crime and still places that are unsafe, there’s always more to do, but (this is) definitely a big success for all students and for student government.” 

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