On Friday, students were subject to the whim of a carelessly administered VT Alert. A laughable dusting of snow threw the university into turmoil, and classes were canceled abruptly; 1:25 p.m. classes, and any classes scheduled to take place afterwards, were canceled at 1:10, a measly 15 minutes before classes were scheduled to start. Accompanying the confusion were cases of students who weren't notified for at least 10-15 minutes after the alert.
Faculty and staff were affected as well. The late alert led to misinformed canceled library tours for uniformed professors, TAs and graduate students, and professors who had nothing better to do than lecture to empty classrooms and posted them online for the sake of not falling behind.
Sure, who am I to complain about canceled classes? But the issue is not focused on the inconvenience of trekking to campus for a class ultimately not had. The center of this criticism is the mishandling of the alert, which, considering our history here, holds immeasurable influence over the studentry and university personnel. The poor administration of information for a circumstance as casual as inclement weather casts a dark shadow on a system that is intended to be crucial during legitimate emergencies.
This is not to say the system has been rendered useless by a singular event. VT Alerts have served their purpose extremely well in the past and will continue to play a large role in emergency information. But after the confusion regarding Friday's weather emergency, there is clearly room for refinement.
The system needs to be fine-tuned to reach all applicable populations as efficiently as possible. We cannot afford for alerts to reach our phones and email inboxes 10-15 minutes after we were intended to receive them. There also needs to be a more comprehensive look at how relevant information is consolidated for our needs. Bus schedules and their appropriate adjustments must be crystal clear, or at least alluded to in a separate alert. And in situations where the emergency isn't a matter of grave importance (i.e. an immediate safety threat on campus), it may be in the university's best interest to delay their actions until halfway through the upcoming schedule block. This will allow for officials to plan the best course of action and adequately pass on all relevant information to students and faculty.
With hindsight fixed upon the mishandled alert, emergencies in the future will be subject to a smidgen of doubt. Students have, and will continue to, respect the information sent through VT Alerts, but there cannot be another situation of late alert reception. Otherwise, the alerts are useless.