Editorial: Manually updated system not enough for true campus safety

Baylor displayed a major flaw in its emergency alert system last Monday when 4,800 students did not receive a notification regarding the presence of two armed men on campus.

At 11:15 p.m., Baylor’s alert system was activated when two men being pursued by both Waco police and Beverly Hills police for the robbery of two cash stores near the Baylor campus.

The suspects ran from Casa Royale, on Speight Avenue, to the intersection of Eighth street and Speight Avenue, where they separated, one running toward I-35 and the other running toward La Salle.

The alert sent to Baylor students via text message, automated phone call and e-mail said: “Two black males, 1 wearing a black shirt and 1 wearing a white shirt, armed and thought to be on campus. Please remain inside until further notice.”

A file missing thousands of students’ names and emergency contact information in Baylor’s system served as the database for last Monday’s alert notification system. This was a grave error displayed in the Baylor alert system.

The swift action officials took in notifying the Baylor community was commendable. Waco and Baylor police worked together to quickly alert students, and had the system been completely accurate, it would have easily notified all students with impressive promptness.

There is an importance in pointing out how helpful the alert system was to many students that night. With incidents similar to last semester at University of Texas at Austin, where a lone gunman committed suicide on campus, or the tragedy at Virginia Tech that left 33, including the gunman, dead, it is of vital importance that college campuses have a timely and efficient method of alerting students.

Our university should not wait for a tragedy like the on-campus suicide in Austin before we improve our alert system.

A manually updated system is no longer effective for the times we are in and the move to a fully automatic, self-updating system is crucial.

While the incident that occurred last week was fortunately not an attack directed at students, it could easily have been, and the flaw in the alert system could have cost a number of lives. Beside the system improvement, the university should consider other avenues to increase our on-campus safety.

For instance, key-card swipes on the outside of buildings would have prevented the two men from entering a building, thereby protecting students and allowing police to narrow down the search area. Small but powerful changes such as this should be considered. The swipe of a card is an inconvenience we presume many would take on for increased safety.

Baylor must patch this hole in the system, and it appears the school has every intention to do just that. Much can be learned from this unfortunate situation that can ensure the safety of students in the future. Baylor reports progress, and the Lariat applauds the quick turnaround.

While tensions ran high, we were given the chance to truly test our system, and we should recognize last Monday’s manhunt as a blessing in disguise.