Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=155362
Story Retrieval Date: 5/21/2013 4:06:20 PM CST
Some Chicago office buildings are behind the curve when it comes to contacting occupants in emergency situations, according to several mass notification service providers.
Mass notifications systems use text messages, e-mails, voicemails and other means to quickly contact large groups of people, and are designed for use in emergency situations. Variations of such systems were implemented at many colleges and universities after the Virginia Tech school shooting in 2007, when a gunman killed 32 people before committing suicide, and were used last week when a report surfaced of a man with a gun in one of Northwestern University’s downtown buildings. No gunman was found.
Businesses and office buildings have not followed suit as quickly as schools.
“There’s no question [that there are a lot of businesses that could be more up-to-date],” said David Burr, CEO of Chicago-based AMG Teleran, a company that offers a mass notification service.
Burr said that businesses could adopt the system for as little as $1,000 a year, since many systems are tailored to use existing equipment or are Web-based.
Eva Rios, assistant property manager at the Clark Adams building at 105 W. Adams St., said that mass notification systems would be difficult to implement in a building with 50 tenants, for example. Contact information, such as cell phone numbers, would be difficult to gather and maintain, she said.
“For schools, [contact] information is collected at registration,” Rios said. “That type of system wouldn’t necessarily work for an office building.”
Still, Rios said the discrete nature of such a system could be useful.
“The police might not deem an announcement a good idea, if whoever is on the 10th floor with the gun might hear it,” Rios said.
Steve Sise, an asset manager with Golub & Co., a real estate firm that owns eight buildings in downtown Chicago, said mass notification systems don’t cover all bases.
“The limitations with this text notification is that the person has to have a cell phone,” Sise said. “And while for younger people you can’t imagine life without a cell phone, there are a lot of older people who don’t have them, or don’t know how to use text or email.”
There are no available statistics on how many Chicago office buildings use a mass notification system. The city of Chicago offers a mass communication system where residents can sign up for free alerts via e-mail, phone or text.