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COUNCIL: UPenn Emergency Notification
October 30, 2007, Volume 54, No. 10

VP Maureen Rush: Emergency Notification


I want to focus on the Penn Alert emergency notification system, which, due to copyright challenges is now going to be known as UPenn Emergency Notification System. I want to give youa base of awareness for what we have now for the crisis plan itself. If you look at the model for our crisis management system, you’ll see that it’s based on a pyramid of Prevention, Response and Recovery. We do prevention by doing tactical, strategic and logistical planning; we have what we call the UCEPT team, University City Emergency Preparedness Steering team. If something happened in University City, it’s not just Penn that would be reacting; it would be all of our comrades in Public Safety over at Drexel, at University of the Sciences and the City of Philadelphia. So the UCEPT team is a large group, both inside of Penn, not just Public Safety, but other entities inside of Penn and our partners throughout University City and the City of Philadelphia. We have done numerous tabletops since the fall of 2001 when this plan was devised. We do tabletops and field function drills. A field function drill is coming up on November 1. We have a lot of emergency response training that was given to Penn Police as well as Allied Barton security officers who supplement our police. When it comes to response, we have two levels of responders. We have The President’s Group—the Crisis Management Team (CMT)—which is composed of senior administrators who develop policy and strategies, pre-, post- and during emergency situations. That is co-chaired by EVP Craig Carnaroli and Provost Ron Daniels and is composed of numerous administrators at a senior level across the University. We also have the Incident Management Team—the emergency responders as well as communication personnel—they operate out of our emergency operations center which has been developed at 4040 Chestnut at the Public Safety Building. And these two groups work in conjunction with each other and I actually toggle between both groups during a crisis situation.

And then finally, recovery. We developed several years ago a Critical Incident Stress Management Group that is composed not only of our counseling and psychological service professionals and our employee assistance professionals, but is sponsored by Vice Provost for University Life Val Cade and myself, and we have over 45 people across the University that have been trained in an emergency response crisis management model that deals with post-traumatic stress and the prevention of post-traumatic stress. Our goal on recovery is to stabilize, normalize the environment and then to continue the mission of the University.

We do this within Penn but we also do it within University City and with the Philadelphia partners for Emergency preparedness. We have three levels of the emergency plan. We have level one, which will be an isolated critical incident. Level two, localized critical incident and level three, a major critical incident. An example of an isolated critical incident where we might not need to notify members of the Incident Management Team and the Crisis Management Team to convene might be a minor lab spill or a chemical spill of a limited and containable nature. We may activate fire alarms, where the normal emergency responders would respond.

On a level two emergency, there may be no major policy or communication issues implicated on this level, so the CMT may not convene although relevant members may convene either by conference call or in person and the emergency operations center might be activated or at least partially activated. An example might be a power outage, steam leak, flooding or water main break affecting a limited part of campus. We just had that about a week ago, at University Avenue, and so it affected those particular isolated buildings and they were dealt with on a one-on-one basis.

On a level three, the highest level—a major critical incident—that would affect the entire University area or a significant portion of University City. It would require coordination for the operational groups, which is the IMT and the CMT, the policy group. An example would be a major fire, a major flood, a hurricane, an active shooter situation, a terrorist attack or an accidental release of biological or chemical hazards that are not confined to a single or limited area.


In terms of prevention education, in every building across campus, placards are hung in a public area, near the elevators or at the entrance to buildings and they are specific to each building, listing the name of the building, and giving examples of the types of emergency situations that could occur at the University, and, what your response should be. There is a primary and secondary refuge area, if the building is totally shut down, lets say a fire, or a flood, people are not expected to be standing out in these weather conditions, so we have identified for each building on campus, a shelter location and also an area of refuge to get you away from the building if the need presents itself. As you walk around campus familiarize yourself with these placards so that you will know where to go in the event that something occurs in that building.

Let’s talk about emergency communications. One of the worst incidents of violence in a university/college setting happened at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007. Thirty three people lost their lives in an active shooter situation, which included the actual gunman, who was a student. Virginia Tech had effects across the world. It had effects at Penn. All of us—all administrators, the President’s Office, the EVP, the Provost’s Office, Val, myself, the Chaplain—were on the phone for days and weeks talking to parents who were concerned that if this happened at Penn, what would your reaction be? What would Penn do?

We have been working on this process. We wanted to make sure we had the right product to be able to notify our 52,000 community members. Now, we’re going to notify you most effectively through the UPenn Alert Emergency Notification System. Prior to the UPennAlert, these are the ways in which we would notify people: phone chains, email blasts, university wide email blast, University-wide voicemail, online messages through the Penn Homepage, the Public Safety homepage and last but not least our beloved hotline. If you look at this, 52,000 people are a lot of people to be notified that there is something happening that is requiring our attention immediately; this is not the most effective way. I would direct your attention to the Public Safety website, www.publicsafety.upenn.edu. for frequently asked questions about the UPennAlert system. It directs you to the links to sign up your emergency contact number. Through ISC we already have your email and for faculty and staff, your work number. If you’ve given your home number, it’s on there. What we don’t have and what we most need and cannot get automatically is your cell phone number entered into the system. Its very quick, its very easy, it is confidential, the vendor that we use is MIR 3, which has gone through every due diligence check throughout the RFP process, not just by Public Safety but the Office of General Counsel, our Privacy Office, Compliance Office as well as our Finance Office. The information that is on our system will be used for emergencies and emergencies only. So if we don’t have a cell number to notify you and you’re sitting here at University Council right now it’s going to your email or your phone at the office and that doesn’t help you a lot. I must also say if we didn’t get 100 percent compliance, chances are you would still get the message if only one of us got the Penn Alert system notification, you would all be notified because hopefully that person would be a kind individual and let you know why they are running out the door. But better you should sign yourself up just in case.


Integrating the UPenn Emergency Notification System into the current crisis management plan, will be done through prevention, field drill exercises primarily through different buildings and schools. The first test of the emergency notification system will occur on November 1. Dean Gelles has opened up the School of Social Policy and Practice; all the folks from the school have been entered, as a group, into the UPenn Emergency Notification System, and we’ve also invited and have received hardy “yes’s” from the UMC, the UA, GAPSA, MERT, WPSA and PPSA. These folks are all going to get the Penn Alert Emergency System. Our metric for success on this test of the system will be: were we able to successfully deliver the alert to one of the devices that registered to each of these participants? I will tell you that there is a concern with text messaging across the country. The problem with text messaging is that the companies have no obligation and no time constraint or time reference for getting that message out to you. So our system will send it to you through voice and text, so that is the safeguard, plus email.

In the near future we will integrate the UPennAlert system into our regularly scheduled University wide emergency drills, both evacuation drills and shelter-in-place drills.
The UPenn Emergency Notification System has a call bridging feature. We are able to build groups. The Penn CMT is a group that will receive a Penn Alert notification that will bridge them directly onto a conference call. This will enable the group to make quicker major policy decisions.

The Undergraduate Assembly has partnered with Public Safety to make sure that everyone puts the PennComm emergency number (215) 573-3333 into their cell phone. You cannot use “511” from your cell phone. We want you to save (215) 573-3333 as “Penn Pub Safety.” The reason is because you’re going to call that number if you have an urgent need or a question for the PennComm Center. But if your phone rings and you see “Penn Pub Safety” you are receiving an UPennAlert notification.

Be our partners in safety; register your emergency contact information today in the UPennAlert Emergency Notification System


Almanac - October 30, 2007, Volume 54, No. 10