UF Alert System designed to keep community informed, safe

UF Alert System designed to keep community informed, safe

During an early weekday morning in August, a gas line was accidentally cut between McCarty Hall and Century Tower, and officials had to act fast.

Their priority was ensuring people’s safety and getting emergency crews to the scene. In a few short minutes, they closed a major roadway and alerted over 63,000 individuals by text message to avoid the area.

Within the hour, the fire department had cleared the scene, the roadway had reopened, and everyone was informed they no longer needed to avoid the area.

The UF Alert System, which was responsible for sending that morning’s notifications to tens of thousands of individuals — mostly by text messages — is the university’s response to a federal law that was enacted in 1990 requiring institutions to provide accurate and transparent information about emergency situations as well as about crimes on or near campus through timely warnings and emergency notifications.

The Clery Act

The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, or Clery Act, requires all universities and colleges that receive Title IV funding to maintain policies and procedures that address campus security, crime prevention and victim services. The goal is to arm the university’s students, faculty, staff and community members with knowledge to help individuals make informed decisions and to take an active role in their personal safety.

“The spirit of the Clery Act is transparency,” said Rebecca DeCesare, assistant director of compliance and ethics and UF’s Clery compliance officer. “With this in mind, the UF Alert System is the mechanism for the university to communicate about emergencies or crimes happening.”

DeCesare explained the UF Alert System sends three different mass communications messages, including Emergency Notifications (branded as UF Alerts on the Gainesville campus) and the Timely Warnings, which are both required under the Clery Act.

Three types of messages

A UF Alert is issued primarily through SMS/text messages, GatorSafe app push notifications, UF Alert and UF Public Safety social media posts, email, VOIP phone messages, and as a banner on the UF homepage when a significant emergency or dangerous situation occurs on the campus that involves an immediate threat to the health or safety of students, faculty and staff. These are generally short and can include multiple messages sent within a span of time, providing information about the situation and a call to action for recipients. UF Alerts are sent when emergencies are happening in real time and can be criminal, weather-related or pose other types of danger to the UF community.

A Timely Warning is sent mainly through email, GatorSafe app push notification, UF Alert and UF Public Safety social media posts, and as a banner on the UF homepage when a Clery crime that constitutes a serious or continuing threat to students, faculty and staff is reported to the University Police Department or a campus security authority. A timely warning tends to be longer than the alerts and does not require follow-up messages. The warnings provide detailed information about the crime with the aim of preventing similar offenses in the future.

A recent example came Sept. 7 when UFPD sent a timely warning message informing the campus community about an increase in motor vehicle thefts on campus. The message added tips for keeping vehicles secure and described how UFPD was addressing the thefts through increased patrols of parking areas on campus.

“These messages are important for two reasons,” DeCesare said. “They keep our community aware of emergency situations that could impact their health and safety, and they provide instructions and information on how to keep yourself and others safe.”

The third type of UF Alert system message – Campus Safety Messages – is a newer mechanism for UF Public Safety to share information with the community regarding issues that do not meet the criteria to be sent as a Timely Warning or UF Alert under the Clery Act.

UF’s Compliance and Ethics office relies on partners across the university to meet the requirements of the Clery Act, including UFPD, Department of Emergency Management, Office for Accessibility and Gender Equity, Student Conduct & Conflict Resolution, UF Housing, GatorWell, and UF Health Security. In addition, over 2,000 employees are designated and trained each year as campus security authorities, serving as mandatory reporters for those who do not wish to report to police.

Annual reports published by Oct. 1

In addition to the emergency notifications and timely warnings, the Clery Act requires that universities publish Annual Security and Fire Safety Reports each year. The security report includes statistics of reported crimes from the previous three years occurring on campus or at locations owned by UF or officially recognized student organizations as well as on public property immediately adjacent to UF. 

The Annual Fire Safety Report contains information about fire safety systems and statistics for on-campus student housing facilities and fire safety policy information. It also details the procedures for student housing evacuation in case of a fire, policies regarding fire safety education for students and employees and the titles of each person or organization to which individuals should report a fire.

The Annual Security and Fire Safety Reports are published by Oct. 1 each year and can be found at: https://clery.compliance.ufl.edu/annual-security-and-fire-safety-reports/.

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