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Warning System Slated For Wou In September

MONMOUTH - Western Oregon University may install by fall a warning system that sends text messages to its campus population.

MONMOUTH - Western Oregon University may install by fall a warning system that sends text messages to its campus population.

The system would utilize cell phones to warn students, faculty or staff about inclement weather, earthquakes and serious criminal incidents.

Western, Oregon State University, Eastern Oregon University, Southern Oregon University and the Oregon Institute of Technology committed last week to collectively purchase the technology. The hope is to have it in place by September.

Western and other colleges have been evaluating their campus safety protocol following a mass shooting at Virginia Tech University in April 2007 that left 33 dead. A number of public forums were held at the schools in January and February, in which mass warning systems were discussed.

"The bottom line is we want to have as good a response system as we can to put in place," said Darin Silbernagel, director of business services and part of a task force that researched the system.

"We have an (emergency notification) process in place, but this will improve it."

Silbernagel said the task force has recommended the Connect-Ed system, a product of Blackboard Connect Inc. The vendor provides communication systems for local, regional, state, and federal government entities.

Mark Weiss, Western executive vice president, said the university will make incoming and current students, faculty and staff aware of Connect-Ed, and that they can voluntarily submit their contact information to receive emergency messages via cell phones, private phones and e-mail.

"We want to be able to reach people as quickly as possible in incidents that require mass communication," he said.

Cost for the equipment is estimated at $100,000, with Western's share running $5,000 to $12,000, depending on how many users sign up and whether more institutions buy into the system, Silbernagel said, adding that Portland Community College is considering becoming a partner.

"If we had gone it alone, it would have cost several times that amount," Weiss said.

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