No ‘maybe.’ Call me, please

| Staff Columnist

I was up until 3 a.m. Thursday morning because of Student Life production. About 2 1/2 hours later, I was woken up by a siren blaring to announce the arrival of the first tornado of 2014—what literally everybody wants to be woken by.

I got on my iPhone’s Twitter app, did a quick search for “tornado St. Louis” and found that one had touched down in University City at 5:22 a.m. I checked my watch; it was 5:28.

I got up, opened the door and walked into the hallway, only to find that neither of my roommates were awake. I texted a friend of mine who lived north of the Delmar Loop to see if the twister was anywhere near her, but she didn’t respond until hours later that she had been asleep. And in conducting a straw poll in the Danforth University Center Sunday night, the majority of students I spoke with had had no idea about the tornado until the next morning.

I had received an email time-stamped 5:27 a.m. informing me of the tornado warning, but that clearly did a whole lot of good for the students who were still asleep.

Resident advisors did a fantastic job waking their freshmen and herding them downstairs, as my Twitter feed and Snapchat indicated around 5:30 a.m. But the WUSTL Alerts system failed the majority of its students Thursday morning.

The University was extraordinarily lucky that the twister touched down miles from campus and moved east, not south. Had it done so, today’s issue would have a drastically different front page.

In the past, my phone has been flooded by text messages, phone calls and voicemails in addition to emails informing me of a test of the alerts system. Clearly, the system has worked before, but once again at 7:13 p.m. Thursday, all I received was an email. This was nearly 14 hours after it should have been evident that there was a problem, yet no fixes were made. And while the information from multiple sources was annoying at the time of the tests, it had a purpose, and I would rather be annoyed in a time of emergency than unaware.

Also troubling was the number of students on the 40, in the Village and off campus, who did not even hear the sirens go off. Students who were awoken may complain about the nuisance, but they at least knew that something was happening. That even one student did not is unacceptable. Buy more sirens, turn up the volume, do whatever needs to be done to cover every student on campus (off-campus students would not be covered by University sirens).

In addition, that voice that booms at the end of the alerts is completely indecipherable, even when moving closer to windows. And moving closer to windows is the exact opposite of what the University wants students doing in the event of a nearby tornado. I want Voldemort in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” not Christian Bale in “Batman Begins.”

The University works hard on its emergency protocols, but that preparation does not matter if the community is not sufficiently notified of an emergency. This time, the tornado was north of campus, but it might not be next time. I trust that the University will bombard me this week with texts and calls testing the emergency notification system. I welcome it.