By Neale McDevitt
There is an old adage about hoping for the best but planning for the worst. This can apply to everything from farming to family finances. But it is especially true in the field of security.
What would happen if disaster struck McGill? A raging fire, a dangerous intruder – how would the extensive, widely scattered University community be alerted to get out of harm’s way or, if not in the immediate vicinity already, avoid wandering into a potentially dangerous situation?
The answer is Alertus, a computer-based emergency mass notification system that can post an immediate message to the desktop of most of the estimated 20,000 computers at McGill at the press of a button.
“It is an incredibly simple tool for users,” says Emergency Measures Officer Bruce Lapointe. “People with access can log into the software interface and select the message that they want to post. They hit ‘send’ and that message automatically pops up on people’s computer screens.
“And it doesn’t interrupt any processes that are running on your computer,” says Lapointe. “If you’re uploading a file and you get a notification it doesn’t freeze your computer. Your file keeps uploading.”
End of January launch
Most messages will let recipients click ‘Acknowledge,’ thereby getting rid of the message. In certain cases, such as in buildings that need to be evacuated immediately, that option won’t be available – making sure that the same people who have been known to ignore fire alarms and keep working don’t have any reason to linger.
Alertus will be launched on Jan. 31, but people shouldn’t expect a lot of fanfare. In keeping with the need for a system that is as unobtrusive as possible, the software will be installed automatically to all computers supported by IT Customer Services. The small minority of people using Macs and older computers on the MED IT network will have to request that the software be installed on their respective machines.
The system automatically updates new computers added to the McGill network or those of people who have been on vacation or extended leave. A test of the notification system is scheduled for mid-February.
Lapointe encourages students with personal laptops to download the Open Source program. That way, when they are on campus, they will be notified along with everyone else should an emergency situation arise. “We want to be able to inform as many people as possible in as short a time as possible,” he says.