Few students received emails or notifications regarding an erratic driver on campus. Photo: Jacob Hoytema.
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uoAlert falls short with app, needs text/email alerts

On Wednesday March 20, a van sped through campus, leaving students in shock after the driver crashed into multiple vehicles and drove through pedestrian walkways.

After a police chase and ambulances barricading Cumberland street, the driver was in police custody and charged with eight criminal offences.

Media outlets swarmed the U of O and Jacques Frémont was on the scene, reassuring students that they were safe following the incident.

Why then, weren’t all students alerted of it?

uoAlert is an emergency alert system designed by the University of Ottawa to alert students when an emergency takes place on campus. Seems pretty straightforward, but seeing as students did not consistently receive such an alert, a better system needs to be implemented.

Currently uoAlert only sends push notifications to students who download their mobile app, SecurUO, compatible with android and ios. While there are no numbers on how many downloads have been made for the app, SecurUO only has one user review, made a year ago.

In addition to a mobile app, uoAlert also boasts a desktop app for Windows and Mac called Alertus, which offers screen alerts in an emergency. There have been no apparent marketing initiatives for either app, leaving students new and old in the dark about the emergency services offered on campus.

The University of Ottawa website further instructs students to email the emergency management program for alternative alert options, but does not specify on their website what those options are.

uoAlert does suggest on their website that in the case of emergencies they will tweet information related to the incident, stating “When uoAlert is activated, the University will tweet updates using the Twitter handle @uOttawaAlert. Other Twitter handles, such as @uOttawa, will also retweet messages. As a follower, you’ll be asked to retweet all related posts to help spread the word,” however, a quick Twitter search indicates that their last tweet was in October 2018.

So what exactly constitutes an emergency in the U of O’s eyes? Was an erratic driver not enough cause for concern to warrant a warning to students to stay away from the area where the driver was seen, causing pedestrians to run for their lives?

Or is the system simply flawed?

Many students didn’t even receive emails from uoAlert about the incident, myself included, and the ones who did say they got them following the driver’s arrest.

For all their efforts, if people aren’t getting notified, there has to be a simpler solution. One such solution would be a proximity marketing device.

The device is fairly cheap and uses bluetooth technology to send push notifications to mobile devices within a certain radius.

Since it would only be used for emergencies, it wouldn’t be an annoyance, and the onus wouldn’t be on students to download an app in order to receive notifications.  

Another option would simply be to email students as an emergency is ongoing rather than after the fact.

Most students don’t have the app, but all students receive emails from the administration, and it is by far the most convenient way to stay informed of minor changes and big emergencies.

Otherwise, uoAlert is doing students a disservice by making them responsible for their own safety. With so much on our plates already, and the thousands we pay to be on campus, the least the U of O can do is make sure it’s a safe space for students.