Emergency system is wrong medium for weather alerts

While we are glad to find out that UK Alert finally worked smoothly and speedily for the first time since its implementation, last week’s weather delay did not merit the use of the emergency warning system.

The decision to delay opening the university for two hours was sent to users of UK Alert between 6:10 and 7 a.m. on Feb. 12 via text message, phone, e-mail and other mediums, said UK spokesman Jay Blanton in the Kernel the following day.

UK decided to use the emergency notification system for the delay because the decision was made shortly before 6 a.m., and sending an e-mail notification at the time would have been largely ineffective for 8 a.m. classes and office openings, Blanton said.

We stand by our opinion that UK Alert should only be used to serve its purpose, and that is to notify its users in cases of campus emergency.

While a weather delay is uncommon for UK, calling it an emergency would be a far stretch. Here’s a general rule of thumb: An emergency message should demand the recipients’ immediate attention. But last week’s message woke up UK Alert users merely to let them know they could sleep in.

We understand that in cases of weather delays, the university often won’t be able to make a decision until hours before classes, making it challenging to notify students in time. However, primary and secondary schools face the same situation every winter, and if they can manage to notify their students without using an emergency warning system, UK should be able to do the same.

In addition to broadcasting weather delays on local TV channels, UK has the additional sources like its Web site and e-mail notification. To make sure students understand the weather delay notification system, UK should send a campuswide e-mail message at the beginning of each winter season reminding students to check the aforementioned sources to find out about delays. This way, students can be informed of weather delays easily and in a timely fashion.

For the UK Alert system to be effective, its users must take each warning message seriously. If UK unnecessarily uses the system to send casual notices such as weather delays, students could lose their trust of the system and fail to pay attention when an actual urgent warning is sent. To protect UK Alert’s effectiveness, the university should only use the system in situations of true emergency.