Academy Spirit staff writer
The Academy Command Center has added a powerful new addition to its lineup of emergency notification systems.
Falcon Alert will now enable cell phone users to receive text message notifications tailored to their needs and preferences.
The project has been in the making for about a year, and it has about 350 subscribers so far.
“Virginia Tech opened a lot of eyes,” said Lt. Col. Edward Werner, Command Center commander of the program’s impetus.
A single gunman opened fire at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute campus nearly three years ago leaving 32 students and professors dead and many others wounded.
Colonel Werner said texting is an ideal method for notification because it can spread emergency information to a large number of users rapidly and because texting generally still works when cell phone voice services are unavailable. Text messaging also improves message clarity, and it is persistent in that unless it is purposefully deleted, the message remains intact on the phone. Lastly, it improves authority, because while some people brush off or ignore emergency messages from other sources, cell phone users will generally pay attention to text messages.
Colonel Werner estimated about two-thirds of those who work or go to school on the Academy have cell phones.
“Texting is a wonderful way to contact them,” he said.
The Academy’s notification system also includes computer desktop alerts, desktop e-mails and live voice messaging via work phones, as well as Falcon and Husky Voices inside and the Giant Voice outside.
“The primary purpose is emergency notice,” Colonel Werner said.
Falcon Alert is online with the company Rave Mobile Safety, which provides “Rave Alert” early emergency notifications to businesses and colleges. The name “Falcon Alert” was chosen to more aptly describe its users.
Start-up cost for the Academy was $5,000, and the Academy has purchased 130,000 30-second voice mails, which Colonel Werner estimated provides for about five years of use.
Falcon Alerts can be issued from various sources, including the Academy’s .edu and .mil networks, from a home computer and even from a single smart phone.
A pending approval letter from senior leadership of the 10th Air Base Wing, expected to be approved in about a month, will require permanent party, cadets, and cadet candidates on the Academy to enroll in the program for duty phone and duty e-mail.
Though not required for Academy personnel without government cell phones, Colonel Werner highly encouraged registering all cell phones to get text alerts.
Falcon Alert was used initially for weather alerts in January, which proved successful.
“We had a great practice run,” he said.
The Academy is looking to open Falcon Alert to the entire base population as well as Academy District 20 schools on base, saying, “It’s on the drawing board.” Under consideration for further upgrades to the Academy’s emergency notification system is a new system to integrate small, random public address systems on base and add public address systems to an additional 50 buildings.
The Academy is also being considered for a best practices award at the Air Force level.
“I think it’s a big win,” Colonel Werner said of the Academy’s notification technology. “We are way out ahead of the Air Force.”
To sign up for Falcon Alert, go to www.getrave.com/usafa. Members can choose which types of notifications they wish to receive, such as warnings for severe weather, high winds or other emerging emergency situations. Cell phone users without texting capability can choose voice-only notifications. Text users should check with their service provider to see if additional charges are incurred for received texts.