Omni Alert changed to Chatham Alert system

The Omni Alert system that sent an inaccurate message to subscribers during the Tree of Life shooting in 2018 was renamed, among other updates.

JL Silverman

Chatham University joined the ranks of campuses in the United States affected by an emergency related to gun violence Oct. 27, 2018.

The shooter was off campus at the nearby Tree of Life synagogue that day, but the OMNI emergency alert system, a software used by many campuses with secured information, notified students otherwise. Almost immediately, a second corrected alert was activated, but the emotions from the mistake lingered.

Since then, Chatham University has implemented changes to the alert system — now known as Chatham Alert– to help prevent misinformation from being shared in the future.

Discussions on campus about the previously named OMNI Alert system led to the sense that there is still a lot of misinformation floating around.

Here’s what went wrong in October 2018: A message template in the system erroneously stated the shooter was on campus. It was sent instead of the intended message specific to the situation. Within minutes, a message was sent alerting the students that the shooter was not on campus and to ignore the previous alert.

After the Tree of Life shooting, a push was made to get more people to sign up for the Chatham Alert. Posters were displayed, emails were sent out from Chief Valerie Townsend, campus postcards were sent via mail for all students and announcements were made at orientations. By spring 2019, there was an uptick in sign ups. Chief Townsend declined to comment on the alert system and changes made to it.

A test of the system took place in March 2019. A text and email were sent through Chatham Alert to all active subscribers.

Updates were also made to the Chatham website on the Campus Life Service/Public Safety page to include an active shooter resource video.

Chatham Public Safety training is offered through Chief Townsend, including training for staff, students and ALICE (or active shooter) training in programs that can be built specifically toward individual departments and/or locations.

Although emergency notifications can be received by text, email, Chatham U and social media, the most immediate alert is through the Chatham Alert system.

“There are 3,388 in the system. I do not have a breakdown of that handy
that shows how many are addresses vs. other addresses. Some students, staff and faculty may use their address or a personal one so it’s hard to delineate. However, the system is open to anyone for registration (as they don’t need an address). It will contain students, staff, faculty, possibly parents and also possibly neighbors who chose to sign-up,” Bill Campbell, Chatham University’s Vice President of Marketing and Communications, said in an email.

The next test of the system is scheduled for the week of Feb. 17.

To register for Chatham Alert, enter your e-mail address, cell phone number and carrier. One can also add additional email addresses and cell phone numbers for family members.


Updates to emergency alert system since Tree of Life shooting

• The system has been renamed Chatham Alert to make clear this is an alert system for the Chatham community. A revised notification was sent out to reflect the name change.

• The website was updated with more information and links to register.

• Processes and protocols for various Chatham Alert communications have been revised.

• Rules and functionality in the system have been streamlined to ensure automated system messages are not sent in error.

• Annual tests are conducted of the Chatham Alert system (tested spring ‘19 and recently in February ‘20)

• ALICE (Active Shooter) training and resources (videos, handouts, etc.) for orientation and campus community have been implemented.

• The Chatham Alert system vendor provided additional consulting, modifications and training to ensure the message issue does not occur again.

Chatham University’s reaction and recovery in wake of Tree of Life shooting