To Text Or Not To Text -- In Purdue Emergencies, That Is The Question

Aug 26, 2015

Some of the texts sent by Purdue Police during the 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. hours on Saturday, August 21.
Credit Stan Jastrzebski / WBAA News

A series of texts to the Purdue community Saturday warning people of a suspicious package, an armed robbery and a sexual assault raised many an eyebrow. But when only one of those situations was updated with follow-up texts, some questioned how Purdue’s warning system is designed.

Purdue Police Chief John Cox says his department must send messages about ongoing threats to the campus, but has received negative feedback in the past about sending too many texts, so the department developed a page on the Purdue website where updates can be posted. Most warning texts now include that website address. But numbers from Purdue’s Information Technology team suggest the plan to drive people to that page isn’t working.

Cox says each message goes to more than 50,000 devices and tells recipients to go to the website. But in the 11 o’clock hour Saturday, when texts went out about all three incidents, the emergency action page at Purdue.edu received just 4,400 hits – a number equal to less than 10-percent of all the devices that received the messages.

Purdue also didn’t send a follow-up text when officers discovered the armed robbery didn’t actually happen and the so-called sexual assault was actually an instance of inappropriate touching.

In other words, no one texted the community to tell them there were no more threats, and very few people clicked on the website to find that out.

But Cox says he’s more concerned about needlessly alarming people with additional, all caps texts from law enforcement.

“In a situation like that armed robbery, where we have an outcome where it was false informing, we put that up on the [emergency action] page, because what I don’t want is I don’t want the community to go ‘Oh, it’s another page’ and to begin to do that cry wolf thing,” Cox says.

The “suspicious package” also turned out not to be a threat, but rather a poorly-marked home for a group of rabbits that students were trying to protect.