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Students automatically opted-in for alerts

Ohio State is opting to change its opt-in emergency alert text messaging system.

Under the old Buckeye Alert system, students, faculty and staff had to register for the safety alert program in order to receive emergency alerts, said Bob Armstrong, director of emergency management at OSU.

While the new system will still be optional, Armstrong said OSU will pull cell phone numbers from the student contact information and from the faculty and staff databases.

“We’re being a little more aggressive in getting people into the system,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong said the cost of operating the alert system will rise with the upgrade.

Under the old system, it cost $20,000 a year to operate the alerts with an additional fee when the system had to be activated.

Each time the emergency texts were activated, Armstrong said there was an additional cost of $15,000 to $20,000.

Under the upgraded alert system, OSU will pay about $1 to $1.25 per person who receives a text, Armstrong said.

There are about 50,000 people enrolled in the system currently, Armstrong said. He said there may be an initial decrease in that number as the upgrade is implemented.

“We’re getting rid of a fair number of people who have graduated or retired,” Armstrong said.

But once cell phone numbers have been pulled from the respective databases and added to the Buckeye Alert system, he expects the enrollment number to be similar to the current one.

In order for students or faculty to have their phone numbers automatically added to the new Buckeye Alert system, Armstrong said they must be sure to list their cell phone number under the “Cell Phone” heading in their OSU contact information.

“If it’s listed under ‘Home Phone,’ it will not be a part of the new system,” he said.

Armstrong said the plans to upgrade the Buckeye Alert system have been in the works for about two years.

When the current system was first implemented in 2006, Armstrong said, “it was an opt-in program and at the time that was kind of the way to do things.”

But he said OSU is always looking to improve the system.

“Every year, there’s a group of us that will kind of review … what we can do better,” Armstrong said.

During his quarterly editorial board meeting with The Lantern Thursday, President E. Gordon Gee said OSU chose to change the system to make the alerts more effective and efficient.

“The purpose is so we can do it quicker and faster, but there was no specific event (leading to the changes in the Buckeye Alert system),” Gee said. “They have new technology that makes it quicker and faster and more immediate.”

Janna Robinson, a fourth-year in finance, said she has not received Buckeye Alerts and isn’t sure if she wants to.

“I don’t really want them sent to me,” Robinson said. “I guess it depends on how often they are sent … it costs money. If it’s only occasional, it would be helpful I guess.”

While the changes were set to take effect on Sept. 30, Armstrong said his department has “a little bit of leeway” before the switch is

entirely completed.

Still, he said students and faculty will not see a difference in the systems.

“The only difference they will see is that more of them will be informed in an emergency,” Armstrong said.

Danielle Hyams contributed to this story.

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