College invests in safety

Communication system will alert campus to emergencies

Posted: Wednesday, January 09, 2008

In light of recent university tragedies across the nation, Kenai Peninsula College is implementing a system of campus-wide communication for emergency use called MIR3.

MIR3 is a temporary program that will be replaced with a Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) system once funding is approved.

"Considering some of the instances that have happened in the Lower 48, we wanted to invest in this system," said Gary Turner, KPC director. "Our main concern is the safety of our faculty, staff and students."

The system will be implemented at the Kenai River Campus and the east and west campuses at Kachemak Bay. The Seward extension of KPC will operate under the emergency notification system at Seward High School, where classes for that campus are held.

Starting next fall, students at the two participating campuses will have 50 cents added to their technology fee to cover part of the $5,000 yearly cost of the program, but they are not required to sign up for notifications.

"We will encourage them to do so but if they don't want to, they don't have to," Turner said.

This semester, KPC is footing the bill.

Starting Monday, if students choose to be involved in the program, they must input their information into the system's database. They may provide as many contact methods as they wish, including phone numbers, e-mail addresses, fax numbers and texting devices. Faculty and staff were automatically entered into the system.

Emergencies covered can range from a violent incident to a snow storm or power outage that closes the school. Ten people have been authorized as system initiators and are able to send messages to every phone number and e-mail address in the database. Messages are pregenerated to ensure speed, but can be edited to include specifics such as dates and times. Once an initiator sends a message, the system automatically begins working through all of the contact information.

The program was found by Bill Howell, director of student services at KPC, who researched many different options before settling on the MIR3. Since the events that took place at Virgina Tech last spring, the emergency response industry has grown significantly, making it a more time-consuming process to sift through the options. Some companies focus on geographical areas and some sell only a large package the includes response options beyond emergency use. The MIR3 is a good fit for KPC because it provides the necessary options at a reasonable price, Howell said.

Although no incident to cause concern has occurred at KPC, school officials did not want to risk the possibility of an emergency without the proper equipment to notify facutly, staff and students.

"It's prudent for us to take measures like this to ensure the safety of the people at our campuses," Turner said. "It's the prudent thing to do and it's the right thing to do."

MIR3 also has contracts with certain sectors of NASA and the Air Force as well as many universities, including Vanderbilt University, University of Washington and University of Alabama.

VOIP has been laid out as the long-term solution for schools across the state and school officials hope that it will be ready to replace MIR3 within the next two to three years. A request has been submitted with the Legislature for the money needed to re-cable buildings for the system, but even if it is approved this session it will be a few years before the system is ready for use.

Hannahlee Allers can be reached at

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