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UWRF to establish City Watch

March 6, 2008

Prompted by the tragedies at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois UW-River Falls will be implementing an emergency notification system as part of its comprehensive emergency planning.

The system, called City Watch, will allow the University to notify students, faculty and staff of an emergency by sending mass text messages, voice messages and e-mails. Special Assistant to the Chancellor Blake Fry said the University hopes to have the system running by April at the latest.

Fry presented information about City Watch and projects dealing with emergency planning and prevention at a presentation in the University Center, Tuesday.

“Emergency planning was pretty full steam ahead,” Fry said. “But as far as the emergency mass notification implementation, Virginia Tech had a big role in that.”

By teaming up with the city of River Falls, Pierce County and Xcel Energy, the cost of City Watch goes from around $40,000 to approximately $9,000. UWRF will also have to pay an annual cost of just under $1,000 for on-demand capabilities.

City Watch combines two systems. As is, the University will be able to send out mass notifications to 250 people at a time. But with on-demand capabilities, UWRF will be able to send up to 20,000 messages an hour.

Immediately after the tragedy at Virginia Tech, UWRF began looking for Emergency Notification Systems. In instances since Virginia Tech when campuses have had City Watch in place, it has worked very well, according to Fry.

At the presentation Fry, River Falls Police Chief Roger Leque and Director of Public Safety Richard Trende also discussed the importance of collaboration and prevention.

“You can’t be exclusive, you have to be inclusive when working on emergencies,” Trende said. “Its all about communication and sharing information.”

The presentation focused on communication, which will be implemented, but also on prevention and taking an all-hazards approach.

UWRF bases its all-hazards approach on the definition from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“An emergency preparedness strategy that would mitigate or prevent one strategy would likely have great commonalities with those strategies that would mitigate another type of emergency,” Fry said during the presentation.

Fry outlined the four stages of emergency planning: mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. The emergency notification system deals only with response, whereas UWRF and specifically the Behavior Intervention Team have worked more extensively with mitigation and preparedness in an effort to reduce the chance of an avoidable emergency such as a school shooting.

“This team [B.I.T.], created in the fall of 2007, serves to identify, assist and direct those students whose behavior has become a significant concern to others,” Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Gregg Heinselman stated to faculty and staff.

“Our Behavior Intervention Team is really proactive and ahead of the curve,” Heinselman said. “I wonder if we were simply not aware of it before, or if it just wasn’t on our radar screen.”

Another B.I.T. member said the number of emergency detentions, “has gone way up,” but she didn’t know whether more existed or if they’re just seeing more cases.

UWRF has been working to take the necessary precautions through mitigation and preparedness and now, with the implementation of City Watch, has also enabled a responsive mass communicative system.

“[The] Emergency Alert System enables us to make live announcements to everyone on campus,” Fry said. “And City Watch is one of those systems where we can send mass numbers of text messages and phone messages to literally tens of thousands of people an hour in the case of an impending pertinent emergency.”