WarnMe system fails: majority of students, employees uninformed of active shooter situation

WarnMe system fails: majority of students, employees uninformed of active shooter situation

Photo Credits: HANNAH HOLZER / AGGIE

Outside security system responsible for sending alerts takes responsibility for failure

Due to a failure on the part of the outside security alert company responsible for sending out WarnMe alerts, the majority of UC Davis students and employees did not receive real-time updates from campus police during an active shooter situation in downtown Davis last week. The sequence of events unfolded on Thursday, Jan. 10, during which time a shooter killed 22-year-old police officer Natalie Corona and fired several other shots before taking off into the city.

The fatal shooting occurred at 6:55 p.m. and the UC Davis Campus Police Department (UCDPD) was made aware of the incident at 6:58 p.m. The initial message informing the campus community about the incident and the shooter remaining at large was sent out just minutes later, at 7:04 p.m., but not everyone received it, according UC Davis Police Chief Joe Farrow.

“Instead of sending out some 60,000 messages, it went out with like 10,000 — much less than it was supposed to,” Farrow said. “The good news is, 10,000 people got it. The bad news was the majority of the campus didn’t get it. It just didn’t go out.”

UC Davis is federally required, under the Clery Act, to notify students and employees about information related to campus crime and security threats

Rave Mobile Safety, the vendor used by UC Davis to send out WarnMe alerts, has taken responsibility for the technical issue which occurred on Jan. 10. The university tests the system twice annually — the next test will be in January, according to an article posted by UC Davis news.

“The Jan. 10 problem occurred because, due to an error in this updating process, key users were shut out of some lists and only one systems administrator had full access to all lists,” the UC Davis article states. “When the problem was identified during the evening, the administrator restored access to all the lists so that later messages (starting at 8:45 p.m.) went to the full campus.”

Rave’s Chief Technology Officer Brett Marceau said the company takes “full responsibility for the fact that not all of the intended recipients received notifications and regrets the position into which it put the university,” in a letter sent to the university, according to the article.

Chancellor Gary May labeled the system failure as “unacceptable” in a Facebook post and assured the campus that the university will take “all necessary measures to ensure 100 percent performance in the future.”

According to Farrow, as the night of the shooting progressed, it became increasingly apparent to the UCDPD that not everyone was receiving the alerts being sent out. At this point, campus police contacted Student Affairs and Strategic Communications, asking these offices to inform the campus about what was happening.

The UCDPD also entered information into the system by hand in an attempt to send the alerts out to more UC Davis students and employees. By hand-manipulating the system, 5,000 more individuals received an alert each time it was reloaded. This also meant some of the same individuals who received the initial messages ended up receiving redundant messages.

Farrow said three key messages — one informing the campus about the shooting, the second declaring a shelter in place and providing a description of the shooter who remained at large and the third declaring an all-clear — were supposed to be sent out. Ultimately, around seven messages were sent out. Farrow said UCDPD’s messages finally reached the entire campus at 9:30 p.m.

“It was two hours and 25 minutes before we finally sent out the one we originally wanted to send out at 7:05,” Farrow said. “I know people are really angry, [but] the whole time we were sending out messages through email and through texting.”

One Facebook post with 71 shares criticizes the university’s communication issues, labeling the situation “unacceptable.”

“In my eyes the university failed at protecting the 30,000 students in the heat of the action,” the post reads. “I’m extending my experience of walking home alone at 7pm, in the heat of the crime scene and at the time when the suspect was fleeing the scene armed and dangerous, with absolute no warning from the university about a fleeing suspect.”

Immediately following the events of that night, May and Farrow attributed the issue to “an unanticipated glitch in the WarnMe system,” in an online letter, and said the issue was corrected “as soon as possible.”

Behind the scenes, Farrow worked with the large amount of law enforcement personnel to create a barrier around campus, comprised of nearly every UCDPD officer as well as officers from UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, UC San Francisco and California Highway Patrol, to ensure the shooter would not be allowed access.

“We had the shift that was just going off plus the shift that was just coming on and every person we had put on the uniform and we surrounded this campus,” Farrow said. “That person was not getting on this campus. We made a decision right then and there that we were going to protect our institution. We were doing it because we needed to protect our students and our staff.”

If a similar high-stress, high-risk situation were to occur again, Farrow said that students, faculty and community members will be provided with real-time instructions.

“When the system works the way it’s designed, you will get a notification that an incident is going down and you are going to get a direction — read the direction,” he said. “If you are in a place of safety, shelter and place. For those of you that did that, you are following direction.”

In an interview several days after the shooting, Farrow said that the incident is a tragedy and the focus now should be on supporting Corona’s family and friends.

“The university takes very seriously the responsibility to secure the campus,” he said. “Best intentions were out there, they did everything they could to secure, [but] there was a glitch in the system. I’m very proud with the way the university responded: nobody was injured, everybody was safe. I thank our university for doing what they did that night.”

A memorial service for Corona organized by UC Davis is scheduled to take place this Friday, Jan. 18, at the ARC Pavilion at 11:00 a.m.

Written by: Priyanka Shreedar — campus@theaggie.org

Campus News Editor Hannah Holzer also contributed to this report.