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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Emergency Alert System upgrade benefits UWRF

Published April 11th, 2014

Last August, the Emergency Alert System was upgraded for the UWRF, making it more efficient, according to Jason Winget of DoTS.

The upgrade made the system almost completely automated. It included replacing fire alarm horns with speakers in every university building, allowing voice communication during emergencies. About 70 exterior fire alarm speakers were set up to cover 90 percent of the campus, according to Facilities Engineer and Project Manager Alan Symicek.

The upgrade began with the fire alarms and expanded to a feature that allows for emergency alert voice communication campus-wide. Now there is a speaker in every building and dorm room so students and faculty can hear it during emergencies and react according to the directions given to them through the speakers.

The goal of the upgrade was to get a campus-wide network for all the fire alarm panels. They are now all connected via fiber-optic network so alerts can get to the fire department, said Symicek, who has coordinated with contractors and overseen the design since the start.

Symicek said the last upgrade was in 1995 and most systems are built to have about a life span of 20 years. The new project took 16 months to complete.

The Facilities Management and DoTS worked together for this system upgrade. Symicek said the campus police and River Falls Fire Department are thrilled and the new system has been well received.

“I think the response has been good,” said Symicek. “I haven’t gotten a lot of feedback but everybody we’ve talked to has said it seems like a nice feature to have, especially with the unfortunate things that are going on at university campuses these days around the country.”

A benefit from the new system is that officials can isolate certain buildings and directly communicate with anyone they need to during an emergency. They can give students directions on what to do for that specific emergency and get help where it is needed. The new system is working so well that other universities are beginning to follow this same model, according to Winget.

The campus radio station, WRFW, is benefiting from the system upgrade, according to WRFW-FM General Manager Richard Burgsteiner. In the old system, student DJs had the responsibility of sending and receiving tests for the EAS and a lot of the times it would be forgotten, which is not acceptable by federal standards. The new system does this on its own.

“The best advantage for this new unit is that it’s pretty much fully automated,” said Burgsteiner.

The tests go off every Monday at 2:55 p.m. and every first Wednesday of the month (times vary depending on location and can be found at http://www.uwrf.edu/Facilities/). These tests are carried out by Wisconsin Emergency Management in Madison, Wis., and the National Weather Service in Chanhassen, Minn.

Other tests are administered during odd hours causing disruptions for students living in dorms or studying in buildings. These alarms go off due to scheduled feedback given by television and radio stations that rely on advertising revenue and need to fit the required alerts into programs where it will have the least amount of interference, said Winget.

Raishma Majeed, a junior at UWRF, remembers a time she was disrupted from an alarm being tested.

“I was studying for a test and they went off,” said Majeed. “It took me out of the zone and it was really distracting.”

Students can expect more alerts for severe weather alarm testing as spring approaches. The upgrade has not changed the frequency of the tests but there were a few more tests administered in the beginning of fall semester of 2013 to make sure the new system was working properly.

A full list of times and dates that the EAS is scheduled to go off can be found at www. wpr.org/eas or go to http://www.uwrf.edu/Facilities/ and click on “fire alarm testing” for the days and times they are scheduled to be tested.

Winget stresses that students need to sign up for emergency text alerts in order to stay safer around campus in case of an emergency. Students can get directions on emergency management and how to sign up at http://www.uwrf.edu/emergency/.

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