In late September, I was sitting on the 601 bus, en route to campus from the Trenton Transit Center, when my phone buzzed, indicating a new text message.
It was an emergency alert, informing students of a sexual assault that had occurred off-campus and directing us to check our emails for more details.
This past Thursday, we received another emergency alert, telling students about a luring attempt at Rider, which barely said much besides that fact that more information could be found in our Gmail inboxes.
Admittedly, whenever I see that random five-digit combination of numbers denoting a text alert from the College, I hold my breath for a second as I scroll down to see what it’s about this time.
Though sometimes a relief (indicating class cancellations) and sometimes terrifying (men with dreadlocks and knives), there’s really no telling what these messages will say. Sometimes they even warn about a bear on campus (which, though it may be a threat, I can’t help but find it adorable).
This sense of uncertainty increases tenfold when an emergency alert provides minimal details and concludes with “See TCNJ e-mail for details.”
I understand there’s not much space to tell an entire story via text message, but a bit more vital information could be included.
For example, with the invention of Twitter, we’ve become capable of constraining comments to 140 characters — that’s 20 less letters than a typical 160-character text message. I’m sure there’s someone adept enough to condense important info into a text message without being so vague.
Thinking back to the initial text message alert I referenced, how does a “timely warning” that gives minimal details about a sexual assault “off-campus” help at all?
If we’re being literal, “off-campus” could literally encompass any location beyond our campus circumscribed by Metzger Drive. Especially since I was in Trenton, sans computer at the time when I received this message, I felt slightly uncomfortable.
When these warnings are in fact “timely,” it only adds extra time to the delivery of information to us as we find a computer and log in to our email.
I think that if emergency alerts are going to serve their purpose, they should tell you things you can read on the go. Not all of us are equipped with smart phones.
The luring attempt email informed us to keep an eye out for a bright blue car and provided a description of the subject — a perfectly useful message, but not many cars pass by one’s dorm room window, or the Library (locations where individuals would go to check their email). This is the kind of situation where a text that someone reads while out and about could be beneficial.
I do understand and appreciate how emergency alerts are advantageous, and something previous generations didn’t have to transmit urgent information. It is a great technological advance.
However, a little less ambiguity could go a long way.