Editorial: ISU Alert doesn’t efficiently inform students of campus threats


Miranda Cantrell/Iowa State Dail

Police cars sustain damage after a chase ended on Central Campus on Monday morning. Ames Police pursued a stolen truck onto campus, where witnesses reported three gunshots were fired.

Editorial Board

A car chase ended with a crash and shots fired by police Monday morning. The vehicle, which was stolen, presented danger to students as it careened onto campus and into a tree on the central lawn.

In the past month, Iowa State has experienced a potential bomb threat and a car chase that ended in gunfire on campus. The frequency of these prospective threats shows that schools, whether high school or college, are far from what could be considered a safe space.

To minimize the daily threat of danger, high schools run through “lockdown” drills, teaching students the proper behavior and reaction for violent occurrences.

On the collegiate level, our prevention methods are somewhat restricted. Obviously, we can’t have campuswide drills for lockdown or evacuation when students are constantly changing classrooms — moreover, we probably shouldn’t. The procedure is not replicable for 30,000 students.

What we do have are ISU Alerts, a message sent to ISU faculty and students aimed to warn them of potentially unsafe occurrences. According to the ISU Alert website: “The system could be activated during severe weather, hazardous materials incidents, bomb threats or other immediate dangers.”

Certainly the Oct. 16 bomb threat and Monday’s event fall under that category. Though the bomb threat diffused when it was discovered the object in question was just plastic foam, and none but the driver was harmed Monday, both situations presented potential danger to students and faculty. However, the ISU Alert system failed on both occasions to forewarn the campus population and keep them safe from the potential danger on campus.

On the day of the bomb threat, the area in front of the library was cordoned off, police were called in, and even a bomb squad was on the scene. Despite these precautions, no alert was sent out to students. Though the situation ended without harm, it could very well have gone a different way. Failing to inform students and faculty of the potential existence of an explosive is a jarring error in the ISU Alert system.

As for Monday’s incident, it was approximately 10:30 a.m. when the stolen truck crashed on campus. Students heard shots being fired, and the wail of police sirens, but had no idea what was actually going on. It wasn’t until nearly 11 a.m. that some students received an ISU Alert text message stating “ISU Alert: Shots fired on central campus. Result of chase by Ames PD. No threat now. Situation resolved. Suspect in custody. Avoid affected area.” However, the time at which students received the text varied greatly. Some of that discrepancy could be due to the individual’s phone service, but in any case, too much time passed before students were informed.

Though the message explained the situation to students, it did so after the danger was over. It wasn’t until after shots had been fired, and a vehicle had crashed on Central Campus, that students had an idea of what was going on.

Additionally, only some students received the alert. Though students can opt out of the ISU Alert service, other students who still subscribe to the service claim to have not received one. 

Additionally, a large number of students receive their alerts through email. The email alert, however, was categorized by some university email accounts as “spam,” preventing students from easily seeing the message. 

Iowa State’s IT Services is investigating the cause of this error; regardless, it caused many students to miss the alert.

What is most surprising is that the system was tested just days ago, on Oct. 23. A message was sent to students, reading “ISU ALERT: This is a test of Iowa State’s emergency notification system. Only a test. You may change your ISU Alert delivery preferences anytime in AccessPlus.” Having been tested so recently, ISU Alert should have been able to handle notifying students and faculty of Monday’s events.

We need to be aware that certain measures need to be taken to ensure safety. If ISU Alerts are to function as a makeshift protective shield, they need to become more consistently reliable.