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SHSU notification system lacks refined protocol

Senior Reporter

Published: Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Updated: Tuesday, February 4, 2014 00:02

KatSafe

Kaleigh Treiber | The Houstonian

KatSafe, Sam Houston State University’s emergency alert system, lacks a defined protocol prior to sending out notifications, according to university officials.

Although the KatSafe system has improved over the years, utilizing an array of technological media as means of communication, according to SHSU’s public information officer Julia May, the people behind the decisions are in need of a defined reference point.

“Every single situation that we have on campus is different,” May said. “It would be wonderful and our jobs would be so much easier if we were to say that whenever we need to alert our students through KatSafe, we do ‘step A,’ ‘step B,’ ‘step C,’— but we can’t do that, because every situation is different.”

According to May, decisions made behind sending out KatSafe messages depend heavily on who the specific message needs to reach for that particular event. May added KatSafe is meant to inform students and faculty about events that will have a big impact.

“We try to get the message out that impacts the most people at that time and that’s the way all of our KatSafe messages are designed to work and that’s how our decisions are made too—how many people are going to be impacted by whatever is going on, on campus, and then we make the decision,” May said.

Several offices at SHSU are a part of the KatSafe chain-of-command, according to May, and include University Police Department, Human Resources, Risk-Management, Insurance and Information Technology. However, although many individuals are involved in the decision-making to send out a KatSafe alert, sometimes officials don’t have time to discuss and debate their options.  

“We have some things that are pretty standard, we use common sense if we know that it is something very, very, very serious then there’s really no ‘well let’s sit around and talk about it and figure out which method to use,’” May said. “We know from experience we’ve got to notify as many people as possible in as short of a time as possible, so that’s when we just go into action and get the message out.”

According to UPD Police Chief Kevin Morris, there are two broad categories through which KatSafe-worthy events may fall: emergency and non-emergency.

“Before a KatSafe goes out, we follow a policy in which we either do a timely warning or an emergency warning,” Morris said. “The mode of communication is defined by what type of incident or level of threat it presents to the university and that will determine how it is released to the public.”

In the past, the university has utilized KatSafe to inform students and staff members regarding inmate escapes, sexual assaults and other crimes that have occurred both on campus and in the surrounding Huntsville area.

Recently, KatSafe has been used to inform students and staff about campus closures in January due to inclement weather as well as a fatal, on-campus car wreck in which three SHSU students died in December--a KatSafe alert that was later criticized by misidentifying one of the dead students.

May said she hopes they university will be able to develop a more refined protocol when it comes to sending out KatSafe alerts in the future to help not only the students and staff members receiving the messages, but also those sending the messages.

“I think there will probably come a time when things are broken down, and there will become a standard with different levels of severities,” May said. “I think it will make people who are making those decisions much more comfortable because they will have precedence or an example to follow. I just think it will help the people making those decisions and it will cut the time and increase efficiency.”

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