One semester while I was living on my college campus, I missed a notification that alerted students to shelter in place, and ended up being stopped by campus police when I left a building to go take an exam. Following that experience, I’ve always made sure that I have emergency alerts set up on my phone and other devices so that I can make sure I get timely notifications about class cancelations, severe weather, and other situations. Here are my tips for how to set up emergency alerts for on-campus students attending college and university, and other campus alert systems that students might not be automatically enrolled in.
Enroll in the college’s emergency alert system
Some colleges automatically enroll students in the emergency alert system, while others require students to opt-in. At my college, the emergency alert system sends out text message, phone call, and email notifications about urgent situations on campus that could impact students. Some alerts will tell recipients to check their email for further information, while others will give students specific instructions over text or automated phone call about what they need to do.
Some emergency alert systems automatically enroll students for email alerts, but students will need to add their cell phone, landline, or additional email addresses to ensure that they receive notifications. I chose to sign up for both phone calls and text messages after I had missed important text messages.
Family members, faculty/staff, and campus visitors can also sign up for emergency alerts on the college or university website. My parents signed up to have phone calls sent to the landline phone.
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Set up e911 with the dorm building address
An e911 address is used to help first responders determine the caller’s location more easily and to route callers to the nearest dispatch. I edited my e911 address on my phone carrier’s website to my dorm’s address while living on campus, though if I had to call 911 I would still give my address over the phone. This was helpful when I had to call 911 and realized that I had automatically been connected to a dispatcher in a different county who didn’t know building names for my college.
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Sign up for local emergency alerts from the city/county
Two of my friends living in another state forgot to sign up for local emergency alerts from their city/county as well as reverse 9-1-1 services that can be used to reach residents in the event of an emergency impacting their area- long story short, they had to be escorted home by police while wearing riot gear. Following this incident, I helped them sign up for alerts on the local government website and checked the county’s emergency alert website to make sure that they were signed up for all urgent notifications. This is also helpful for students that live off-campus or for students that frequently travel off-campus.
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Memorize the campus dispatch and alert system phone numbers
Campus alerts usually come from the same phone number, and I set a custom ringtone so that I would know to check these texts or phone calls quickly. I also memorized the campus dispatch phone number, which could be used to request an ambulance or other first responders on the main campus or on satellite campuses.
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Verify how other non-urgent alerts are sent out- email, social media, etc
Sometimes an alert might go out that isn’t urgent- this can be a timely warning, alerts on prolonged road closures, or alerts about an increased media or police presence on campus. These may be sent out via email, posted on social media, or on another campus website. I recommend checking this out before the first day of classes and following/bookmarking the emergency service websites if needed.
For housing notifications, many ResLife staff will send out group texts or emails with important information. Room inspection notifications may also be sent out via email as well- my college started doing this after I had missed several room inspection notifications that were provided in an inaccessible format.
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Update the emergency medical ID on your smartphone
I have an entire post about how I document emergency medical information on smartphones, which has been an extremely helpful tool as a person with chronic illness and a disability. Having this information documented means that I can relay important information to first responders without having to unlock my phone.
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Other tips for how to set up emergency alerts for on-campus students
- Students and parents typically receive the same notifications at the same time, and emergency alerts are not edited or delayed for family members or non-students at my college
- I configured the Amazon Echo Dot in my dorm room to alert me to severe weather in my area, and it would notify me if the National Weather Service issued any notifications for my location.
- If an emergency alert comes through during class, there’s a chance the professor may not receive it if they haven’t registered their phone/email. It’s okay to raise your hand to let the professor or other students know about the notification, especially if it could have an impact on personal safety!