September 4, 2008

Tech Installs Message Boards in Classrooms

By Greg Esposito [email protected] 381-1675

A new academic year has brought another new security measure at Virginia Tech.

Electronic message boards to notify students and faculty of campus emergencies have been installed in 165 classrooms. The cost to purchase 220 of the devices and install 201 of them is $243,700, Tech spokesman Larry Hincker said. Tech bought 19 backup message boards.

The message boards were recommended by a committee formed by the university last year to review security after the April 16, 2007, shootings on campus. The committee, one of three the university formed to assess recommendations made by internal, state and national reports on the shootings, also recommended an alert system incorporating cellphones, which Tech installed for the start of the 2007 academic year.

That system allows subscribers to be notified of emergencies via text message, e-mail, phone and Instant Messenger. Hincker said the university is working on syncing up the various notification systems so one message could go out over all media.

Cellphone reception is poor in some campus buildings, and many professors don't allow students to keep their phones turned on in class. The message board offers another layer to notify people on campus of emergencies or weather cancellations.

The boards are about 2 feet long and normally display the date and time. The last of the devices were installed late last week, and Hincker hopes to have control of them this week. Three people in his department and three in the university's police department will have the ability to post messages on the boards.

Charlottesville-based Inova Solutions is providing the message boards, which are hooked up to Tech's existing Internet system, Hincker said.

Some students have complained about the slew of new security measures the university has implemented since the shootings, restricting access into and around buildings. Ryan Smith, last year's undergraduate representative to the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors, conducted a student survey that included a question specifically about the banner displays.

To the question: "Would banner displays be worth significant financial investment from the university?" 76.4 percent of 315 students surveyed answered no.

Hincker said he's spoken with students who weren't aware that the displays did anything more than tell people the time and date.

"For those people who were here on that date, there are a lot of indicators that remind us of the trauma," he said. "But those message boards are very innocuous. It's just simply a date and time message board that has the ability to report something else."

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