In late May, UC Berkeley students were alerted by four WarnMe emails notifying them of a fire that had erupted at University Village in Albany. The first email called for an evacuation, the second reminded everyone to stay out of the area, the third notified residents that the fire was out and a fourth signified that the area was “all clear.”
While this string of WarnMe notifications represents a recent uptick in crime and conflict around the greater Berkeley area, this trend is by no means new to UC Berkeley students and staff who are consistently left with questions following reports of shootings, arson attempts, armed robberies and more.
In March, interim police chief Jen Louis met with Berkeley City Council to discuss rising violent and property crime rates within the region. With violent crimes increasing by 25.2% and property crimes jumping up by 14.5%, students depend on messaging systems such as WarnMe to navigate the city of Berkeley in a safe manner.
Although these findings were discussed at length during Louis’ meeting with Berkeley City Council, WarnMe still requires reformation to better cater toward the needs of the UC Berkeley community. While it is important to acknowledge the location accuracy that WarnMe does currently report with, a lack of accessibility and timeliness ultimately make the system in need of repair.
To mitigate these issues as Berkeley crime rates continue to soar, we believe the best path forward would be switching WarnMe to a sole short messaging system (SMS).With the current email alerts, students and staff are less likely to get timely updates, as checking emails does not happen at the same frequency as checking a text message.
To increase awareness, we recommend modeling a renovated WarnMe system after UCLA’s BruinAlert. When UCLA students enter their information into their MyUCLA — analogous to CalCentral — they are automatically enrolled to receive SMS text messages from BruinAlert when a situation arises.
Although a SMS messaging option exists within the UC Berkeley WarnMe model, students might not select this option, as it is not automated like the email alerts are upon enrollment.
Additionally, many WarnMe notifications are sent late and are no longer relevant once they are received and read. Timeliness is of the utmost importance when responding to a nearby emergency. If students and staff are consistently reading warnings hours after events occur, they no longer are effective communication tools to enhance safety measures.
Students and staff at UC Berkeley deserve an alert system that is not only accessible, but also provides updates to the recipient in a timely manner. If a situation arises where someone is in the vicinity of an emergency, they should not have to dig through their inbox before it’s too late to respond.