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Thursday, February 29, 2024
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Understanding UW-Madison’s complicated emergency alert systems

The UW-Madison community relies heavily on “WiscAlerts,” the emergency notification system on campus, but few are aware of its limitations and what the other systems available on campus provide.

Members of the University of Wisconsin-Madison community are familiar with WiscAlerts, the campus emergency notification system. However, there are complex intricacies involved with what qualifies as a WiscAlert, Off-Campus Alert or a Crime Warning.

There have been multiple incidents in the past where the public took to social media, particularly Twitter,  to share their discontent that WiscAlerts had not been issued for crimes in the campus area.

Most recently, multiple students took to Twitter questioning why there was no WiscAlert issued after the June 14 State Street assaults on three individuals.

WiscAlerts are issued when there is an “immediate, actively occurring and confirmed emergency situation on campus [or an actively occurring threat that’s heading toward campus] that requires the community to take immediate action in order to stay safe,” University of Wisconsin Police Department spokesman Marc Lovicott told the Daily Cardinal.

For example, a UWPD website says that an active shooter heading toward campus could qualify as a WiscAlert. An active shooter situation occurring away from campus, posing no current or perceivable future threat to campus would not meet the criteria outlined for WiscAlerts.

UWPD manages the campus Emergency Notification System, more commonly known as WiscAlerts. According to the 2022 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report, “all UWPD managers are authorized to initiate and use the WiscAlert system.” The notification system is mandated by the Federal Clery Act.

The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, more commonly known as the Clery Act, requires that higher education institutions implement certain safety and security protocols, and disclose certain statistics pertaining to crime within the campus geographical area.

WiscAlerts are initially issued in English, followed by a message offering translations to Spanish, Chinese, Tibetan, Nepali and Hmoob/Hmong.

UWPD also operates Off Campus Alerts, which are similar to WiscAlerts but cover the area within the boundaries of Lake Street, the coast of Lake Mendota, Butler Street and Johnson Street. They’re also opt-in, as compared to WiscAlerts which wisc.edu emails are automatically enrolled in.

This means events like Tuesday’s sexual assault in the Fahrenbrook Court area are technically not required to receive off-campus or WiscAlerts. Despite being a largely student-dominated area, the incident did not occur on campus or within the downtown reporting area.

Off-campus alerts are slightly more narrow-scoped than WiscAlerts. These incidents occur outside of the UWPD jurisdiction and therefore rely on the City of Madison Police Department to confirm the reports and relay relevant information to the UWPD.

“The incidents may have qualified for an Off-Campus Emergency Alert,” said Lovicott of the June 14 assaults. “However, these alerts must be timely… and we can only issue an alert when we become aware of the actively occurring incident and have verified the information. We do not send out emergency notifications for incidents that previously occurred.”

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The final and most common form of safety alerts are crime warnings. Crime warnings are the most broad and widely applicable form of safety alert available to UWPD, and are required under the Clery Act. 

In order to issue an alert, UWPD looks at “where the crime occurred, the nature of the crime (serious/non-serious, violent/non-violent), the nature of the threat (general threat versus limited threat to a specific person) and whether or not there is a continuing danger to the community or continuing crime pattern.”

Additionally, crime warnings are only required within so-called “Clery Geography,” which covers on-campus property, public property within the boundaries of campus or “immediately next to or accessible to campus and on-campus property,” as well as non-campus property, which is property owned by UW-Madison. 

Non-campus property is “used in direct support of, or in relation to, UW-Madison’s educational mission, is frequently used by students, and is not generally connected to main campus.” An example of non-campus property would be the Arboretum. 

Within the past year, crime warnings have been issued for moped thefts, sexual assaults and petty theft. 

WiscAlerts are issued automatically to students, faculty and staff through wisc.edu emails. Students are automattically enrolled in text and email WiscAlerts. UW-Madison faculty and staff can opt-in to text alerts by signing up online. Other community members and parents or guardians can text UWALERT to 77295 to enroll for WiscAlerts for a six month period. Additionally, WiscAlerts are issued on certain internet platforms, such as Twitter.

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Ian Wilder

Ian Wilder is a senior staff writer and current men’s hockey beat reporter for The Daily Cardinal. He’s a former state politics and features reporter. Follow him on Twitter at @IanWWilder.

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