HSU Sets Up New Audible Alert System - Humboldt State Now

HSU Sets Up New Audible Alert System

Humboldt State University is installing a custom-designed audible alert, voice-warning and strobe light system to ensure the maximum numbers of people on campus are notified in the event of an emergency.

The $200,000 network, to be tested this fall, comprises speakers and strobe lights at the Behavioral and Social Sciences Building, Harry Griffith Hall, Jolly Giant Commons, Redwood Bowl, the Theatre Arts building and University Center.

The new loudspeakers have been matched acoustically to HSU’s topography and building layout by professional audio engineers who previously devised systems for Disneyland and U.S. Navy installations at Pearl Harbor. Humboldt State’s version covers 100 percent of the campus with alert tones—a distinct warbling sound—and 60 percent of it with intelligible voice warnings.

The new audio system takes into account the physics of sound waves and echoes on campus terrain. It eliminates reliance on the Clock Tower bells in the Quad, which could not be heard in many parts of the campus. The bells will now serve as backup.

Loudspeaker coverage also extends to the interiors of Fulkerson Recital Hall, the Student Health Center, the Theatre Arts building (including Van Duzer auditorium) and the Associated Student spaces that adjoin the Quad. Audiences attending concerts with their cell phones off will hear an indoor alert tone and audible message. Amplification systems in those venues will be co-opted by the computerized loudspeaker-control system.

The audible alert network complies with a federal law requiring immediate notice of an imminent threat. The law is a response to the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre in Blacksburg, Va., the deadliest peacetime shooting by a single gunman in U.S. history, on or off-campus. Many public universities across the country, and most CSU campuses, have either installed or are installing such systems to comply with the congressional mandate.

The new system supplements Humboldt State’s dedicated emergency alert Web page, cell phone text messaging, announcements on KHSU-FM 90.5, updates at 707/826-INFO and emergency alert sandwich boards set up temporarily at various points around campus.

“The Web page is always the best source for emergency information, but behavioral research shows that a multi-layered system is essential,” University Police Chief Thomas Dewey said. “It takes multiple warnings—say a fire alarm, the smell of smoke, plus someone yelling ‘fire!’—to alter most people’s behavior. That’s why, for example, we’re including strobe lights, so that drivers arriving on campus have a confirming signal when they get out of their cars and hear the alert tone.”

Dewey said the purpose of the varied alerts is “to create a university culture in which people automatically go to the Web for details immediately after receiving a text message, hearing the alert sound or voice message, or seeing a strobe.”

Depending on grant funding, phase two of the loudspeaker project will add four buildings and interior alert systems. One interior system, for example, will piggyback on the fire alarm network in the Kinesiology and Athletics Building.

Also this fall, HSU has started a new online workshop called Emergency Management Orientation that introduces new university employees to preparedness plans and procedures. The interactive program is broken into four segments that the user can start and stop at will. Each segment begins with a video vignette hosted by Dewey and other emergency personnel, who set the stage for the concise training information that follows. Dewey is joined by HSU emergency coordinator Jan Marnell and members of the Arcata Fire Protection District.

“Because the program was created and produced on the HSU campus, it has an engaging local feel, but it also conveys important standardized concepts that have been adopted across California and the nation,” Dewey said.

The online workshop, which helps the campus meet CSU training mandates, is posted at http://training.humboldt.edu.

Learning Technologist Colby Smart, the program’s designer, said the orientation is designed to be as interactive and convenient as possible. “We’ve made the program a distillation of important emergency information, an introductory course consisting of the essentials,” Smart said.