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Tornado warnings test Alert Carolina’s revised system

A student walks through the large puddle in the Pit Tuesday morning. The early morning rain showers left standing water through out campus.

Two tornado warnings Tuesday gave University officials and students a chance to see Alert Carolina’s newly revised system in action.

Administrators declared the use of the emergency alarm system a success.

But many students and faculty members expressed confusion in response to the University’s alerts.

Students complained that texts and emails weren’t sent quickly enough, and some professors were unaware of protocol. Others did not hear the sirens at all.

The first warning went out just before noon but students received an all-clear message 20 minutes later. The second alert came around 2 p.m.

University officials said students and faculty should be familiar with response plans featured in Alert Carolina, which was established in 2008.

“I can say with some degree of confidence that the alarms were sounded based on the criteria set forth and our plans,” said Randy Young, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety.

But Margarita Phannavong, a junior journalism major, said she was unsure of what to do after receiving Alert Carolina emails in class.

“Every time that I would get an email, my professor wouldn’t respond,” Phannavong said.

James Geer, a junior journalism major, said his professor in Phillips Hall did not hear the sirens, but the class did.

“If it was an actual emergency, there would have been a lot more people in trouble than Alert Carolina could have helped,” he said.

Geer’s professor didn’t dismiss the class until students persuaded him to, he said.

Students and faculty were urged to seek shelter away from windows via text message, email and siren after the National Weather Service issued the tornado warnings for Orange County.

Young said the sirens were sounded based on Alert Carolina’s level-one emergency response plan, which is issued if there is a significant emergency or immediate safety threat to campus.

Alexis Davis, a junior journalism major, was in the Stone Center when she heard students’ phones buzzing with Alert Carolina text messages.

“The crazy thing about it was our professor — he didn’t really know what to do,” she said.

She said the overlap of texts, sirens and emails confused students and professors.

“I don’t know what kind of training professors go through, if any, but I feel like there should be some kind of protocol so if a tornado comes, professors know what to do,” she said.

Sahar Amer, an Asian studies professor, said she felt prepared after receiving an early morning email about tornado protocol.

“The only thing I thought did not work so well was when everything was fine and we went back into our classes there was another siren that went off, and we didn’t know if it was the end or not,” she said. “In the basement you cannot hear the siren telling you all is clear.”

Amer said the system works but needs some tweaking.

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“In the buildings where there is a basement, there needs to be a microphone inside or something at that level, so when there is an announcement you can hear it,” she said.

Students received message alerts at different times, Amer said.

“Not everybody is receiving the message at the same time and evidently when it is absolutely needed,” she said.

Mike McFarland, University spokesman, acknowledged in an email that students and professors were unsure whether or not to move to other classes Tuesday.

“With an active tornado warning, the best thing for people to do is to seek shelter,” McFarland said.

He added that University officials debrief any time sirens are sounded to review issues that come up and improve their plans.

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