IRM-013: Mass Text Messaging for Emergency Alerts

Date: 11/16/2007 Status: Final
Last Revised: 10/12/2017
Policy Type: University
Oversight Executive: President of the University
Applies To: Academic Division, the Medical Center, and University-Related Foundations. [Note: Any issues related to other University campuses, e.g., Wise or NOVA, will be managed separately.]
Reason for Policy:

Establishes the guidelines by which the University’s text messaging system will be used for distribution of emergency alerts to students, faculty and staff who would be affected directly by a critical incident which poses an imminent threat to their health or safety given their presence on University Grounds and/or its surrounding areas.

Definition of Terms in Statement:
  • Emergency Alerts:

    Notifications regarding critical incidents that pose an imminent threat to the health or safety of the University community. Examples of such emergency incidents include, but are not limited to severe weather, hazardous materials incidents, and acts of criminal violence that broadly threaten the safety of the University community.

  • Text Messages:

    Brief, direct notifications received on a cellular phone or similar text-communication handheld device.

Policy Statement:

The University maintains a subscription to a third party text messaging service that enables University administrators to create text messages for emergency alerts to members of the University community and send them to a list of subscribed cell phone or other wireless device users.

Text message emergency alerts are one element of the University’s comprehensive emergency response protocol that provides rapid notification to students, faculty and staff about situations or events that are occurring on the Grounds and/or its surrounding areas. The service is designed for those living within and/or conducting regular University-related business in the immediate area.

The text messaging service with which the University has contracted requires users to opt-in to the service by subscribing their cell phone or wireless device number and e-mail address at U.Va.Alerts. Subscribers may incur a charge from their provider for receiving text messages; therefore, the University uses text messaging primarily for emergency alerts.

This policy does not supersede existing Medical Center polices that govern restrictions of use of cell phones and other text-communication handheld devices in designated hospital locations.

  1. Creation and Distribution of Emergency Text Messages:
    Designees from the following three University offices have the authority to approve distribution of an emergency text message:

    1. Office of the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer
    2. University Police Department
    3. Office of Emergency Preparedness

Once approved, an emergency text message will be distributed by a trained system administrator to subscribers of the text messaging service.

  1. Follow-Up after an Emergency Text Message is sent:
    1. Notifications:
      Immediately after sending an emergency alert text message, the designee who created the message shall notify the other designated offices that the text message has been sent and shall describe the rationale for using text message notification. The purpose of this communication is to ensure that all three offices are sharing consistent information and are not sending duplicate messages. The Office of Emergency Preparedness subsequently will coordinate with the appropriate institutional departments, in accordance with the University’s Critical Incident Management Plan, to communicate additional information to the University community related to the critical incident using other communication modes (e.g., e-mail, web postings, HooView LCD/LED screens in the electronic network system).

    2. Archiving Text Messages:
      The text messaging system archives “sent” messages, but as a back-up, message creators will record the date, time, location, purpose, and content of all text messages that they send.  This information will be forwarded to the designee in the Office of the Executive Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer where the official University record of all official text messages will reside.

  2. Primary University Contact with the Text Messaging Service Provider:
    The Chief Information Officer will identify a designee in the ITC Communications Office to serve as the primary contact with the third-party text-messaging service provider. This individual will be responsible for monitoring and renewing the annual subscription, performing regular system reviews and tests to ensure that the service is performing as expected, and serving as the primary point of contact between the service provider and the University.

    It is expected that this designee will be contacted by the service provider whenever system issues affect the performance of the text-messaging system. Any system problems (downtimes, malfunctions, etc.) will be communicated to all necessary University officials by the designee.


Emergency Information.

Related Information:

Medical Center Policy No. 0139, Cellular Telephones, Wireless Devices and Other Radio Frequency Producing Equipment

For information on non-emergency uses of text messaging, see the policy on “University Text Messaging” (in development).

Office of Emergency Preparedness

Major Category: Information Resource Management
Next Scheduled Review: 05/15/2017
Approved by, Date: Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, 11/16/2007
Revision History: Updated 10/12/17 (Contact Ofc & Oversight Exec); 5/15/14, 4/11/11.