Virginia Tech tests alert system as safety remains top priority

BLACKSBURG, Va. – Safety continues to be a top priority for schools across the country, including Virginia Tech.

The university has developed an extensive system to alert students and staff to emergencies on campus. 

The university tested that system Tuesday, and 10 News took an in-depth look. 

Students say testing the VT alert system is somewhat routine, but that's only become the case over the last decade. In fact, before 2006, VT alerts didn't exist. 

The tragedy that happened here in 2007 proved why these instant emergency alert systems are so important. Since then, Virginia Tech leaders continue to do everything they can to make sure the system is effective. 

"We want members of our community to do something immediately," said Mark Owczarski, university spokesperson.

Tuesday's test of the extensive VT alert system was a success, with messages sent to nearly 600 classroom message boards, about 3,500 desktops, the VT homepage, 35 speakers, social media, phone calls and via email to nearly 60,000 recipients within 16 minutes. 

"These systems are essential to help the community take the right action to make themselves as safe as possible," said Owczarski. 

The alerts are just one piece of Virginia Tech's overall emergency preparedness efforts -- a huge undertaking in which students are playing a major role. 

Michael Gearey is a student and responsible for running the Virginia Tech rescue squad. 

"Something could happen very easily. So, being prepared for something to happen is very much important to making sure that we keep the campus safe," said Gearey. 

That's why the university and first responders in the New River Valley work with Gearey's team to make sure they're ready for anything -- running full-scale drills at least twice a year. 

"We have one of the best programs for emergency management here on Virginia Tech's campus," said Gearey. 

"Hopefully, we only have to do it in a test and we don't need to send an alert any other time during the year," said Owczarski. 

Most of the time, VT alerts are used to tell students about weather-related closings or delays. The university is responsible for sending those. 

But in the event of another emergency here, police dispatch would make the call on whether to send a VT alert.