CUNY Alert: A Fast Way to Spread the Word in Urgent Situationa

John Jay College Senior Vice President Robert M. Pignatello, left, and Director of Security Brian Murphy stand by as graduate student Christine Baerga signs up for CUNY Alert.

In an emergency, prompt and effective communications can be a lifesaver.

That’s why the University created CUNY Alert, perhaps the country's most comprehensive collegiate emergency notification system—and why more than 35,000 members of the University community signed up within three weeks of its March debut.

CUNY Alert is a customized, campus-centered messaging system built upon a single University-wide platform. Each college decides when to message its campus community with real-time information about campus-specific events, such as weather-related closings, and public safety notifications and emergencies. Some events may occasionally warrant a University-wide notification.

Signing up is easy: visit www.cuny/alert for a step-by-step registration process. Registration is open to everyone—degree students, continuing education students, faculty, staff, parents, family and friends. Even residents who live near the campuses and are interested in staying informed can sign up. Faculty, staff and students who have multi-campus interests can request alerts from multiple campuses.

The University’s Information Technology Steering Committee, which has representatives from all the campuses and is chaired by Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Operating Officer Allan Dobrin, began discussing the need for an emergency notification system more than a year ago.

They reviewed a number of emergency software technologies and chose one offered by the New York State Emergency Management Office, or SEMO, which operates an all-hazards alert and notification system known as NY-Alert.

“After an exhaustive review, we selected a robust software that offers great functionality with the added security of working hand-in-glove with the State Office of Emergency Management,” said Dobrin, who noted that the system was acquired at no cost to the University. “It’s a win-win,” he said.

Once the SEMO system was selected, the University Office of Computer and Information Systems began a rigorous process of developing, testing and training to create CUNY Alert, said Brian Cohen, the University’s Chief Information Officer. A similar SEMO system has also been created for the State University of New York.

CUNY Alert can transmit messages via cell phone, e-mail and traditional landline telephone. Cell phones can receive text message and voice messages. Depending on which options they chose, participants can receive multiple contacts for the same message.

Nearly 40,000 people signed up for CUNY Alert within the first three weeks of its mid-March launch. John Jay College, which designed an intensive marketing campaign tied to the rollout, signed up nearly 30 percent of its student headcount in the first weeks of the campaign, the best results of any college.