Suspicious object ignites email debate

| August 27, 2013 | 3 Comments

Why does it take so long for the campus police department to notify the student body of some emergencies?

The university uses email alerts through Niner Mail to inform the UNC Charlotte community of inclement weather, criminal advisories and other occurrences that could be a danger to students and faculty.

The idea behind this alert system is ingenious. Most of us have email alerts sent straight to our mobile devices. The idea that messages sent to email are only accessible from a computer is a thing of the past.

We have become a mobile society, all the information we could ever want rests in an electronic device that weighs just a few ounces.

The university’s email alert system should, in theory, be the perfect method to keep Niners safe both on campus and in the surrounding area.

In a perfect world, alerts that require immediate vigilance from students, staff, faculty and emergency personnel would be sent as soon as the initial problem arises. With some types of emergency alerts, the university sends out the email notification almost instantly.

Severe weather alerts are sent as soon as the inclement weather becomes a danger on campus. Over the 2013 summer sessions, campus police sent out numerous inclement weather emails, due in part to the heavy rains that plagued the Charlotte area.

These rains ultimately flooded part of campus, causing Phillips Road to shut down. In June when the National Weather Service issued a tornado watch for our area, UNC Charlotte campus police issued an advisory to alert the university community of the potential danger.

For this, we can do nothing but praise the university. When it comes to protecting students from vehicular accidents caused by flooded roads or from getting swept away in a tornado, the university cares more than they are frequently given credit for.

The system only falls short when it comes to criminal activity alerts, which arguably is the more important type of alert. Just in the past year multiple examples of the flaw in the advisory system have come to light, the most recent of which being Saturday, Aug. 17.

Around 11 a.m. that morning, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) and campus police responded to a reported suspicious package found near Scott Hall. Residents and staff of Scott Hall, and nearby Holshouser and Hunt Halls, were evacuated as the object was at the time considered a potential explosive.

Over two hours later, after the object had been deemed non-explosive, an advisory alert was finally sent out. Thankfully the object was found to be safe, but what if it hadn’t been? What if the suspicious package was an explosive? Would an email alert have been sent out earlier?

There is no way to know whether we would have been informed sooner if the object had been dangerous, but it seems logical to assume actual danger would not have caused an earlier email to be sent.

While students and staff were evacuated from the buildings, while CMPD’s Bomb Unit responded to the scene, while the object was investigated and while the area was searched for other potentially suspicious objects, students were not informed.

Social media exploded as students living in the halls or attempting to move into their rooms commented on the situation. The official UNC Charlotte Twitter page did not comment on the suspicious object until 12:51 p.m. that afternoon, well after the situation had begun. The Twitter account is not run by the same individuals who are behind the police advisories, but both indicate a lapse in informed safety of students.

Are we as a student body asking too much when requesting a timely alert of potential danger on campus? With the amount each of us pay to this university through tuition and fees, we deserve to be informed immediately of potential danger, not two hours later after the danger has been cleared.

There is a simple solution to this problem. The campus police department should continue to send email alerts to students and faculty throughout the course of an incident. Multiple updates on the situation as it progresses, ensuring the safety of the Niner Nation family during a crisis.

We do not need one alert after an incident letting us know what happened. We need multiple alerts as authorities work to keep us safe, telling us how to help them help us. Having an individual on call whose job it is to continuously send us these alerts would make it possible to update the university community on on-going situations while not slowing down the work being done by authorities.

As for official university social media accounts, while it makes sense not to want the negative publicity these types of alerts would cause, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are sure-fire ways to keep the student body informed.

Isn’t the safety of students more important than the possibility of negative publicity a bomb threat could bring?

Proactively keeping students informed and safe does not go unnoticed, and a positive university reputation of caring about the student body seems more important than the temporary negative publicity that might follow.

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Eden Creamer Eden Creamer is the 2013-15 Editor-in-Chief for the Niner Times. The senior communications major with triple minors in journalism, English and women's and gender studies has worked with the Niner Times since she was a freshman at UNC Charlotte.

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Comments (3)

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  1. Jessie says:

    What I’d like to know is what the hell constitutes a “suspicious package”…on move-in day?

  2. john jakobsen says:

    we’re not all financially sound that we can all afford phones. it is not a requirement for education, that i know of. notification on email is not ‘a thing of the past’.

  3. Tom Kerr says:

    Text message alerts would be a much more effective means of emergency communication. I seldom check my email on my phone, and when I do, it’s my personal email account that is linked to my phone, not my school address.

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Eden Creamer Eden Creamer is the 2013-15 Editor-in-Chief for the Niner Times. The senior communications major with triple minors in journalism, English and women's and gender studies has worked with the Niner Times since she was a freshman at UNC Charlotte.

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