Recent changes to George Mason University’s Mason Alert system have put Mason closer to the norm for emergency notification on college campuses according to Dave Farris, director of emergency preparedness and response.

Following an evaluation of the system by the Environmental Health and Safety Office, now Mason Alert will only be utilized in the case of an emergency and to distribute messages regarding public health and safety to subscribers.

Before the update to the system, which took effect on Jan. 24, Mason Alert users had the option to receive alerts about Mason events, CNN breaking news, Information Technology Unit messages, county traffic alerts, Metro train delays, shuttle system announcements and county traffic alerts. Farris says using the system only for critical updates will increase its effectiveness for users.

“What we really want people to become accustomed to is when they receive a Mason Alert, know that it is in fact a very important message and they need to look at that message,” said Farris. “That’s unfortunate because there were a lot of good things Mason Alert was doing in the past, but it wasn’t doing it’s job the way it was intended to do, which was distribute text messages in the event of an emergency.”

The evaluation looked at how frequently Mason Alert was sending messages, how much it was costing time wise to maintain, gaps in the system, user friendliness and how other universities used their emergency notification systems.
“It was requiring a lot of maintenance on our side, which isn’t cost effective, and creating a lot of confusion on the user side,” said Farris. “We need to make sure the system is easy for not just my office to manage, but I think it’s going to be much easier for a user to use.”

Farris stressed that Mason Alert is a text-based system, therefore it is best for students to sign-up to receive text messages rather than relying on e-mail.

Approximately 68,000 people are signed up to receive e-mails from Mason Alert, which can cause delays in message transmission said Farris.

“Because of the content of an e-mail and the amount of e-mails sent, the distribution of e-mails was slow. Texting is much faster,” said Farris. “Trying to distribute that many messages is going to take time, no matter how efficient your server system is.”

The changes to Mason Alert were approved by the Emergency Management Executive Committee, which consists of senior vice presidents of the University.

If you have questions, comments or concerns about the Mason Alert system, e-mail