Judgment is key to Trojans Alert system


Following last week’s on-campus shooting on Halloween night, many students questioned how the university’s Trojans Alert emergency messaging system worked. Though the crime occurred at approximately 11:45 p.m., students did not receive an email or text message about the event until 12:02 a.m.

The Trojans Alert system is run through the Roam Secure Alert Network, which allows the Dept. of Public Safety to simultaneously send alerts and instructions to an infinite number of communication devices, according to DPS Chief Carey Drayton. RSAN can also automate alerts from government institutions and news stations. Other colleges across the nation, such as the University of Maryland use this system — in fact, Maryland implemented its form of Trojans Alert a few weeks before USC.

The department has been using Trojans Alert since the 2006-07 school year, according to Drayton. The emergency system is open to anyone who signs up for it, and, currently, there are 37,239 students registered. Since DPS started using Trojans Alert, the reasons for using it have adjusted to the different safety issues that arise on campus.

“The system is now used to provide information to the community when any unusual occurrence is happening in the community, in addition to the system’s original purpose,” Drayton said.

More than 40,000 people received text messages and emails from the department the night of the Halloween shooting on campus, according to DPS Capt. David Carlisle. Each cell phone carrier responds differently to the Trojans Alert text messages, which can result in a delay from the message being sent to it being received.

The criteria to send out a Trojans Alert is based on the university’s pre-determined hazards emergency plan. Among the factors considered to send warnings to students, faculty and staff are the amount of information known and what department is leading the efforts to manage the emergency.

DPS carries the ability to monitor which groups of people receive the alerts, such as residential students, commuter students and parents.

Carlisle is one of the DPS officers responsible for sending out the messages, and based on his discretion and knowledge of the event, decides which group will receive the alerts. Previously, the system has been used to send out information about earthquakes and other safety hazards for students, faculty and staff.

“We rely on good judgment with big situations like the incident last week,” Carlisle said. “For big incidents, it is an easy decision, but with other decisions, we have to decide if we should send out an alert and to whom we need to send it to. Sometimes we have to take a moment to see if the information is accurate and then act quickly.”

Demi Coolen, a freshman majoring in mechanical engineering, acknowledged the efficiency of the Trojans Alert system, but was concerned about its timeliness.

“There’s a positive and negative side to Trojans Alerts,” Coolen said. “Everyone was freaking out, so the delay was really inconvenient but not super detrimental. But then again, you don’t want to get it wrong.”

Lizhi Fan, a freshman majoring in computer science, also sees the difficulty in relaying detailed information in a timely manner.

“It’s impossible to be instantaneous,” Fan said. “But it was a pretty severe event, and in those cases you want to be as secure as possible, and as quick as possible.”

DPS is working on solutions to increase the speed of Trojans Alert, according to Carlisle.

“Sometimes, we have to sacrifice accuracy for speed,” Carlisle said. “But we really don’t want to have to do that too often. So it’s really about finding a balance for informing students as quickly as possible, as accurately as possible.”

  • Swann

    Sacrificing accuracy for speed? Perhaps in certain situations, such as something like a downed power line or gas main break. But an active shooter on campus? There shouldn’t have been more than 2 minutes delay to the time the message was sent. Granted this situation was an altercation, but a shooter could have potentially been on his way inside another building on campus had this happened during the day and been a random occurrence as has happened on multiple college campuses in recent years.