February 2022 CIO Update
For this month’s entry, I would like to feature one of Technology Services’ more longstanding and critical services.
VCU Emergency Notification Systems
In addition to providing desktop support, the VCU TS Desktop Services organization maintains and supports the Emergency Notifications Systems (ENS) at VCU. By giving VCU Safety and Security staff the ability to provide timely alerts, these systems play an important role in public safety and ultimately the well-being of our University faculty, staff and student populations, as well as the surrounding City of Richmond community.
The ENS program provides a multi-modal approach for the VCU community with many different tools working in tandem to ensure campus safety. Our ENS solutions consist of standard text messaging, email, beacons, sirens, and desktop client messaging and feeds directly to the alert.vcu.edu page as well as VCU’s Facebook and Twitter social media feeds.
VCU Alert emergency text messaging has been serving VCU since 2006 with the sole purpose of delivering emergency messages. This service can deliver an alert message via SMS (text message), social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), email, RSS feeds, Alertus beacons, desktop software, sirens, VCU Mobile, and the Livesafe mobile app. The over 60,000 subscribers to this service include VCU faculty, staff, students, parents of students, and Richmond community members including federal, state, and government officials as well as local media.
Alertus is responsible for notifying students, faculty and staff in the event of an emergency such as an active shooter, severe weather, etc. Alertus beacons are wall mounted devices in classrooms and common areas spread across both VCU campuses. There are around 519 total beacon devices in use. They will light up, sound an alarm, and display an alert message in the event of an emergency. Alertus Desktop software is installed on over 10,000 Windows and macOS computers at VCU including the VCU digital signage system. This software will display a full-screen alert message in the event of an emergency. Six Alertus outdoor sirens are installed on the Monroe Park and MCV campuses, and at VCU Police headquarters. When activated, they signal that an immediate, life-threatening emergency has occurred or may be imminent in the event of a real emergency. The purpose of the siren is to alert people outside campus buildings to immediately seek secure shelter and to check for additional information from our other emergency messaging channels. Alertus software panic buttons are also installed on specific departmental computers upon request to allow the end user’s computer to send a covert message to VCU dispatch in case of an emergency.
The ENS Systems are a crucial part of VCU’s strategy to provide a safe and secure learning, living and working environment for the students, faculty, staff, and visitors of Virginia Commonwealth University and to partner with the Richmond community. These systems also exemplify the great collaboration between Technology Services and the VCU Police. Thanks to all for their excellent work in maintaining and improving these critical systems.