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Inside UW Alert and UW Advisory messages

In the past few months, the University of Washington has added more than 47,000 student phone numbers to the UW Alert system, so that more people will receive a text message when an emergency happens on or near campus in Seattle, Bothell and Tacoma. If you are one of those students, welcome!

With so many students receiving their first UW Alert texts, here’s a primer on why, how and when the University sends out UW Alert and UW Advisory messages.

When does the UW send a UW Alert or UW Advisory message?

A UW Alert message is sent when we have reliable information about an emergency – a situation that poses an immediate potential threat to the health and safety of the UW community on or near campus.

Incidents that prompt an alert message could include an active shooter, other violent crimes or severe weather.

A UW Advisory gets sent the same way, but is used to make the community aware of a significant situation that does not pose an immediate threat to health and safety, but could be disruptive. These could include power outages, phone outages that could affect 911 service and suspended campus operations.

It is important to note that UW must have reliable information about such an incident before issuing a UW Alert or UW Advisory. Often, that means working with other law enforcement or fire department partners. For the UW campus in Seattle, UW spaces are patrolled by UWPD, while the neighborhoods around campus are patrolled by the Seattle Police Department. At UW Tacoma and UW Bothell, local police patrol both campuses and work in partnership with campus safety.

Who sends UW Alert messages?

Each UW campus has its own Crisis Communications Team with representatives from a variety of departments and divisions. When a potential emergency or other situation arises, that team meets by phone or video call.

For example, when Seattle Police received a report of shots fired in the 1600 block of NE 50th Street on April 16, UW Police heard the call and immediately convened the team. Fourteen members of the UW Crisis Communications Team joined a conference call within 60 seconds.

The chair of the team, in collaboration with the team members, quickly reviews event details and decides if a message will be sent. The chair (or the backup) writes the message, which is shared via email, text message, on social media, UW’s website and on the UW Alert blog for each campus. Check out the UW Alert blogs for Seattle, Tacoma and Bothell.

Once the team has reliable information these messages can be issued in a matter of minutes. An important note: If there is credible information about an active shooter, a UW Alert can be sent immediately by UWPD before the full team convenes for a call.

In Seattle, the team includes members from the UW Police Department, Communications, Campus Community Safety, UW Emergency Management, Environmental Health & Safety, Housing & Food Services, UW-IT and UW Medicine, with liaisons from UW Bothell and UW Tacoma. For UW Bothell and UW Tacoma, the teams look similar and are captained by the Campus Safety leads.

What does the Crisis Communications Team consider when deciding whether to send an alert?

UW is required by federal law (the Clery Act) to quickly share information about serious incidents that pose an immediate threat to the campus community when those crimes happen on campus or on property near campus.

The Crisis Communications Team considers sending alerts or advisories for incidents that happen on campus or within several blocks surrounding each UW property. At UW in Seattle, the team typically looks at incidents within about a five block radius of campus.

The Crisis Communications Team considers several factors before issuing a UW Alert or UW Advisory, including verifiable information, the time passed since the incident occurred, and whether there’s a significant, urgent safety risk to students, faculty and staff that may require quick action.

When students, faculty and staff need to know about a serious crime that happened on or near campus, but no immediate action is needed or too much time has passed to make a UW Alert message useful, the University of Washington Police Department will inform campus via email in what’s called a Notification of Criminal Incident. For example, a recent notification let students know about gunshots fired between University Way NE and 15th Ave. NE. No one was hurt.

It’s a lot to consider, and the team must quickly reach a decision about whether or not to issue a UW Alert or UW Advisory, often with incomplete initial information. If an alert or advisory is sent, the team will often post updates to the UW Alert blog, if they are available, and will generally send a final, closing update to let the campus community know that the immediate threat has ended.

What information is included in suspect descriptions?

When a reliable description of the person or people involved in a reported crime is available, it will be included in the UW Alert message or UW Alert blog. If a suspect photo is available and after consultation with Seattle police, that will be posted on the blog. Suspect descriptions usually do not include race because historically they’ve proven inconsistent and unreliable. Also, research shows that the inclusion of race does not increase the likelihood a suspect will be identified and can do more harm than good.¹

¹Fa-Kaji, Naomi M.; Cheng, Shannon K.; and Hebl, Mikki R. (2019) “The Impact of Suspect Descriptions in University Crime Reports on Racial Bias,” Personnel Assessment and Decisions: Number 5 : Iss. 2 , Article 12.

Is your UW Alert contact information correct?

Students and employees should check their UW Alert accounts regularly (the beginning and end of the academic year is a good time) to make sure your contact information is correct. You can add up to three cell phone numbers and five email addresses, including contact info for family members and friends who want to receive alerts. Remember to select the campuses you want notifications from.

Learn more

For more information about UW Alerts and to update your account, visit the UW Alert webpage.

Update on activities on May 7

The University is tracking multiple events scheduled to take place this evening that have the potential to cause additional noise and disruptions, particularly in the central part of the Seattle campus near the Husky Union Building, The Quad and the light rail station at Husky Stadium.

Our priority is the safety and security of our campus community. We recognize that tensions are especially high due to events around the world, and our hope is that people with opposing views refrain from seeking confrontations and avoid antagonizing one another. We do not detail or share security plans in advance of events, but are taking appropriate advance measures.

If there is a change in University operations or an emergency that poses an immediate potential threat to health and safety on or near campus, a message will be shared via the UW Alert system via SMS text message, UW Alert blog, on the UW website, Facebook and X. Please make sure your UW Alert account information is up to date.

Update on tent encampments in the Quad

UW’s Division of Campus Community Safety, University of Washington Police Department, Student Life and University leadership are closely monitoring the encampment established in part of the Seattle campus Quad.

In addressing the encampment, we will maintain our approach of a flexible, measured and appropriate response that addresses the circumstances of each situation. We will continue to prioritize protecting the physical safety of University community members and minimizing disruption to classes and other activities. Individuals and groups found to be violating laws and/or University policies are subject to discipline, following due process and in an appropriate time and manner. Situations requiring emergency action by members of the UW community will be addressed through the UW Alert system as needed.

For those unfamiliar with the UW’s Seattle campus, the historic Liberal Arts Quad is the heart of the historic campus map. The Seattle campus now stretches across more than 700 acres of classroom buildings, labs, residence halls and athletic facilities.

UW will continue to focus on our mission – educating students, conducting world-changing research, serving patients and the public – and on protecting the physical safety of our community members.

Dedicated outreach at UW for people experiencing homelessness

Meet Samya Murthy, REACH UW Outreach Coordinator

Samya Murthy, UW's REACH UW Outreach Coordinator in a baseball cap, T-shirt and jeans smiles at the camera.Seattle has for several years now been facing a deep crisis of unsheltered homelessness. The UW campus in Seattle has not been immune. This past October, UW started a contract with REACH to provide a dedicated outreach worker at the UW Seattle campus with a goal to build relationships with people experiencing homelessness and connect them with the help they need.

That outreach worker is Samya Murthy, who links people in need – people he encounters in UW campus spaces – with food, shelter, hygiene supplies and connections to mental health care, substance abuse treatment, case management and other care.

If you work on the UW campus in Seattle and want to request Samya’s help, contact the UW Police Department’s non-emergency line at 206-685-UWPD (8973). Samya works Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

We recently asked Samya about his work with UW so far.

How did you get into outreach work?

I got into outreach through kind of an unusual path. I experienced homelessness during my senior year of high school. After that, I was working at an upscale restaurant and realized that if I was going to spend a majority of my life working, it might as well be something that matters to me.

For people unfamiliar with REACH, what does the organization do?

REACH has two main groups, one being outreach, the other one being LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) case management. For outreach, our main focus is to meet people where they’re at. It’s oftentimes hard when you’re unhoused to be able to make it to appointments or come to the office to grab supplies. So we go out and meet people and connect them with help, like shelter referrals or replacing an ID.

A good day is getting someone off of the street and into a shelter. About three weeks ago, I got a call that there was a family of three who needed help. They had an 8-year-old with them, and I was able to get them into a family shelter. I was pretty hyped about that. You can see a huge difference in someone who’s been off the street and in a shelter, even for a week or two. It can be a really quick change once you have significantly less stress.

Tell us about your work at the UW campus in Seattle. Is there such a thing as a typical day so far?

A typical day is checking in with buildings that have been flagged for me, where I know there might be some people staying or hanging out. I usually start with the HUB (Husky Union Building). I check in regularly with any buildings requesting help.

What’s your biggest challenge?

A lot of times, it’s been hard to find people. If I do get a call, a lot of times they’ve left or been asked to leave the building before I get there. If you encounter someone needing services, if possible, if they’re not disruptive, please ask the client to stay until I arrive.

What are some misconceptions you’ve encountered about people experiencing homelessness?

I’ve noticed that people have a difficult time discerning the difference between being uncomfortable and being unsafe. A lot of the time, the people they’re calling about aren’t committing a crime, they’re just sitting there.

I know substance use is a big issue and people have complaints about paraphernalia laying around. Addiction is a real challenge. It’s not that people are going out of their way to use, but they’ll get sick if they don’t. People don’t have to be clean or sober to receive our services.

When should campus people contact you (using the UWPD non-emergency phone number)?

If you see anyone on campus that seems more vulnerable. That’s our key focus — people with high mental needs or substance abuse. If they look like they need some help or just someone to talk to, I don’t mind coming to check it out.

I should add that my role isn’t crisis intervention. I’m more pre-crisis or post-crisis. My main goal is to create an environment where people who are unhoused feel safer in their day-to-day life to have someone consistent to rely on. Consistency is not something you get on the streets. It takes a lot of time to gain people’s trust, identify their goals and navigate different systems.

What are you hoping to accomplish in the next year?

My goal is to become more integrated with UW so more people are aware that I am around and willing to help if they see people that they think need it. I also want to minimize the stress between the unhoused community and the UW.

What are you happiest doing when you’re not working?

Eating. I could eat five meals a day if I had enough time. I play video games and hang out with my friends. My favorite food is ramen and Ethiopian food, but I like everything.

Enhancing campus safety: UW Alert text messages soon to reach more students

When you’re walking across campus, you’re probably not pausing to check your email. But right now, email is the only way most UW students receive time-sensitive information about emergencies happening on and near UW’s campuses.

White cell phone with the UW Alert logo next to a laptop.To make it easier for students to receive UW Alerts via text, at the end of January UW will start adding the phone number from your UW student profile to the UW Alert system. If the number is for a cell phone, UW will send you UW Alerts via text. The messages are only for emergencies or major issues affecting the campus, such as snow, ice or power outages.

UW is the latest university to move from opt-in alerts to an opt-out emergency text message system for students. Universities that have experienced major incidents often switch to automatic enrollment for alert messages. UW is moving proactively to get UW Alerts to more students more quickly.

Division of Campus Community Safety staff have been prepping for several months with colleagues in UWIT to make this shift. When we reviewed the goals of the shift this past fall with Seattle campus student leaders and the more than 200 students and parents we met at the Division of Campus Community Safety info table during Parent & Family Weekend in Seattle, many were surprised that students weren’t already automatically enrolled in UW Alert text messages.

Many faculty and staff members were also surprised to learn that only 17 percent of UW employees have signed up for UW Alert text messages. This first phase of the shift from opt-in to opt-out does not include employee information, but that will come later this year.

Even after UW uploads student phone numbers to UW Alert, it will be important for students to check their UW Alert account to ensure that the cell phone number listed is correct and that you’re receiving messages for the right campus. Students, faculty and staff can also add or change their cell phone in their UW Alert accounts themselves at any time. In an emergency, seconds matter. You need to know what’s happening quickly and how you can protect yourself.

If you don’t want to receive UW Alerts via text, you can reply STOP to any UW Alert text message (except for students living on campus in Seattle, who must contact Housing & Food Services for account changes).

Learn more about the UW Alert update, get answers to your UW Alert questions and add up to three cell phone numbers and five email addresses to your UW Alert account at the UW Alert webpage.

Get ready for winter weather

Although the National Weather Service predicts the Seattle area will experience a warmer winter this year, it’s still smart to be prepared for cold weather. Typically, UW campuses see snow and ice in December and January and a bit into February. Here are a few things to know in advance.

It’s snowing! How can I find out if classes or in-person work are affected?

You see some flakes outside. Are your classes canceled? Do you have to go to work in person?

If UW, UW Bothell or UW Tacoma decide to change operations due to the weather, we’ll share the news via email with a UW Advisory message to students and employees from the affected campus. For those who’ve signed up, we’ll also send you a UW Alert text message (pro tip: sign up now). Info will be posted on the website (check the website for your campus) and social media. Employees who work in Seattle can also call the UW Information Lines at 206-UWS-INFO (206-897-4636) or toll-free 1-866-897-4636. If there’s no message, your campus is operating on a regular schedule.

A change in operations could include canceling classes, closing offices or switching to virtual operations (which means no in-person classes or services; remote learning and work if possible). For students, check with your instructors about whether you’ll have class online.

During suspended or virtual operations, employees who aren’t essential staff (ask your supervisor if you’re unsure), are encouraged to work remotely. Those who can’t should follow the UW Suspended Operations Policy.

How does UW make the decision to start late, dismiss early or suspend operations?

UW has a Weather Status Assessment group, which includes representatives from operational and academic units across the three campuses. UW Emergency Management feeds weather updates to that group and convenes the group if it looks like the weather might impact mobility and operations.

UW in Seattle, UW Bothell and UW Tacoma consider current weather conditions and reliable forecasts, whether public transit is operating, current and predicted road conditions, K-12 school operations and whether UW’s Facilities crews have the tools and people to keep pathways and roadways on campuses safe. A team from each campus makes recommendations for hybrid, virtual or suspended operations to the President and Chancellors.

In the event of snow, ice, high winds or other dangerous conditions, a decision will usually be made no later than 5 a.m. about any change in operations.

Getting to campus

If it’s snowy out, be prepared for changes to your commute. If you ride the bus, check King County Metro, Community Transit or Pierce Transit for updates and snow routes.

Link light rail and Sounder trains typically operate regular service during cold and icy weather, but some emergencies, such as mudslides, can cancel service.

If you’re driving, especially if you’re planning a longer trip over a mountain pass, the Washington State Department of Transportation has winter driving tips and suggestions about what to carry in your car.

What if I can’t make it to campus?

Conditions may be different at your home than they are on campus. If it’s not safe for you to get to campus, students should contact instructors as soon as possible.

Employees should contact their supervisor if they’re unable to come to work. Learn more about inclement weather, including leave use and compensation, at the UW Human Resources website.

If heavy and extended snow is in the forecast, units should check their department’s business interruption and continuity plan and talk with supervisors. UW’s Center for Teaching & Learning also has excellent recommendations for teaching during campus disruptions.

More info

Check out the UW Emergency Management winter storm guide for UW and local info. UW Environmental Health & Safety also has great tips (layers matter).

Stay safe out there, Huskies!

Great ShakeOut earthquake drill Oct. 19: Learn how to protect yourself in an earthquake

Illustration showing a person dropping to their knees, crawling under a table and holding onto a table with the text Drop! Cover! Hold on!

Life in the Pacific Northwest comes with two certainties: you’re going to need a good raincoat, and it’s only a matter of time before the next earthquake. Maybe even a double earthquake.

Earthquakes, like the 4.3 magnitude earthquake we had on Sunday, occur nearly every day in Washington, according to the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. Most are too small to be felt. Large earthquakes are less common, but can cause significant damage. Many at UW remember experiencing the 6.8 magnitude 2001 Nisqually earthquake that caused at least $1 billion in property damage around the region.

We want you to know what to do when the ground starts shaking (drop, cover and hold on) and practice. At 10:19 a.m. on Oct. 19, UW Emergency Management will participate in the Washington Great ShakeOut earthquake drill. We hope you’ll join us. Watch for a UW Alert test message, and, if you can, practice how you’d respond.

Check out the Great ShakeOut earthquake video series for info about what to do if an earthquake happens while you’re in bed, when you’re driving, while you’re in a stadium or you have a sturdy table to crawl under. The Seattle Times also has a helpful earthquake guide.

The preparedness motto is: Build a Kit. Make a Plan. Stay Informed. Make sure you know what you would do if there was an earthquake, and what your family, friends, loved ones and housemates would do if there was an emergency.

We also encourage you to download the MyShake earthquake early warning app. The app uses the ShakeAlert automated system run by the U.S. Geological Survey in partnership with the UW and universities in Oregon and California. That system uses ground motion sensors to detect earthquakes and send a notification.

If you’re new to the area or need something to keep you awake at night, listen to UW seismologists Harold Tobin and Audrey Dunham discuss the impending threat of “The Big One” – a large-scale earthquake that will strike along the Cascadia Subduction Zone – on UW’s Department of Earth and Space Sciences podcast, FieldSound.

Professor Tobin is the Director of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, and the designated Washington state seismologist, studying tectonic plate boundaries, how faults work and the conditions that lead to earthquakes.

UW researchers are conducting crucial research into earthquake hazards, including as the lead partner on a new multi-institution earthquake research center based at the University of Oregon. The National Science Foundation announced Sept. 8 that the center will receive $15 million over five years to study the Cascadia subduction zone and bolster earthquake preparedness in the Pacific Northwest and beyond.

Seismologists estimate that there’s about a one-in-three chance of an approximately magnitude-9 earthquake occurring on the Pacific Northwest coast in the next 50 years. Better understanding earthquakes and preparing for them now is as important as remembering to pack your rain gear.

New Title IX Reporting Form

All UW staff, faculty and students are encouraged to share concerns related to sex- and gender-based violence, harassment and discrimination through the new online Title IX reporting form. Starting this quarter, reports or consultations that previously would have been directed to SafeCampus will instead be directed to the Office of the Title IX Coordinator.

Individuals who are seeking support and options for themselves or others, or who want to make the University aware of a Title IX-related concern, should use the form. Title IX case managers can offer support, explain formal and informal options, and help identify the best way to address the concern. When submitting a report, most employees can choose to remain anonymous and/or not share others’ names to protect an individual’s identity.

Learn more on the Title IX website.

Safety on campus: Huskies watch out for each other

As more than 100,000 University of Washington students and employees prepare for the start of the academic year in Seattle, Tacoma and Bothell, we know our greatest strength is the self-confidence and community bonds people build over the course of the year.

Huskies watch out for each other. We do that by asking for help when we’re worried about a roommate or a colleague. We make sure our friends get home safely at the end of the night. And we know when to call 911 for a medical, fire or law enforcement assistance.

Whether you’re new to the UW and still finding your community or have proudly worn the purple and gold for years, the Division of Campus Community Safety and safety offices on each of our campuses have resources to help you:

Please help us build safer communities by sharing these resources. You can take a few key steps now so you’re better prepared for the year ahead:

1. Sign up for UW Alert text messages

UW Alerts are issued in the event of an incident requiring your awareness and an action — to remain in place, leave an area of campus or avoid an area. You probably already receive UW Alerts via email, but please check your account if you’re not sure you’re receiving alerts via text message.

Only 8% of UW students and 17% of UW employees have added their cell phone number to UW Alert to get a text message during an emergency. Let’s drive that number up. Get the UW Alerts sent directly to your phone by signing up now.

2. Add contact information for SafeCampus to your phone: 206-685-7233

In urgent or dangerous situations, you know to call 911. But what if someone shares they’re struggling with their own safety or you notice behaviors that are making you or others feel uncomfortable? SafeCampus is here to offer support and guidance. You can contact SafeCampus — no matter where you work or study — to discuss safety and well-being concerns for yourself or others. Anonymous calls are welcome.

3. Know your space

Check the exits and the evacuation routes from your classrooms, labs, offices, residence hall rooms and study spaces. Doing this now means you’ll be ready to respond quickly if there’s an emergency.

For more safety tips, follow Campus Community Safety on Instagram or Facebook. We’ll have more information in our next blog post about how to prepare for emergencies.

Welcoming new UW Emergency Management Director Kelley Biastock

UW Emergency Management Director Kelley Biastock.

UW’s Division of Campus Community Safety, which includes SafeCampus, the University of Washington Police Department and UW Emergency Management, is excited to welcome Kelley Biastock as the new Director of UW Emergency Management.

Kelley is responsible for working with the greater University communities to plan and prepare for crises, disasters and major emergency incidents, particularly those that affect the Seattle campus, while supporting emergency preparedness and response work at UW Bothell and UW Tacoma, as well as other university locations. She joins Barry Morgan, UW’s Plans, Training & Exercises Manager, who has been filling the director role on an interim basis. Huge thanks to Barry for his hard work over the past nine months.

Together with internal and external partners, UW Emergency Management offers planning and training support to schools and units; identifies threats and hazards; develops mitigation and solutions to threats and hazards; supports effective response efforts and promotes prevention actions — all with the goal of shortening the impact and length of time involved in recovery efforts.

Kelley has more than 15 years of emergency management experience and comes to UW from Anchorage, Alaska. Most recently, she supported the CDC Foundation on the Therapeutics Task Force, working with the State of Alaska Department of Health in ensuring equitable distribution of COVID-19 therapeutics across the vast geography. Prior to that, she served as the Emergency Preparedness Manager for the Municipality of Anchorage Department of Health. In this role, Kelley managed the public health and emergency preparedness program as well as helped lead the city’s response to the COVID-19 emergency.

Most notably, Kelley worked for the American Red Cross of Alaska. She managed the statewide disaster program as the Regional Disaster Officer. Her many years of contribution in the public and non-profit sectors along with the emergency management expertise and ability to partner well with multiple agencies will serve UW well.

In her spare time, Kelley loves to travel, read and be in the great outdoors hiking, gardening and taking strolls with her husband and their dog, Potter. She is the proud mama to a creative and loving 16-year-old, and a strong willed and compassionate 3-year-old. Kelley and her family look forward to continuing to have new adventures in the Pacific Northwest.