Colleges seek better emergency-notification systems

The two hours it took for Virginia Tech officials to eMail students a warning about a gunman on campus have raised the question of how schools can get critical news out faster in a crisis–and how technology can help.

"When you’re in the middle of something, two hours is not very long. But when you’re looking in, it does seem like a long time," says Mitchell Celaya, the assistant chief of campus police at the University of California, Berkeley.

At UC Berkeley, Celaya says an extreme emergency would warrant, among other things, a siren on an outdoor public address system, followed by an announcement with instructions.

The University of Florida is working with local police to place automatic calls to campus telephones with similar kinds of messages, including alerts about hurricanes and tornadoes. And the University of Cincinnati has gone as far as making its public address system audible inside buildings.

"There is no one magic communication system that we can press a button and let everyone know what is going on," says Chris Meyer, assistant vice president for safety and security at Texas A&M University, where they use all of the above methods and others.

Getting word out to students also was the plan at Virginia Tech, where officials have been working on a system that would get emergency alerts to students via text messages on their cell phones.

That system was not in place April 16, during the deadliest shooting rampage in modern U.S. history. The gunman who killed 32 people and then himself was identified by police on April 17 as Cho Seung-Hui, a South Korean studying at the university.

Virginia Tech officials and local law-enforcement authorities faced pressure to explain how the gunman apparently avoided detection after killing two people in a university dorm and then went on to kill 30 others in a classroom building across campus two hours later.

Some students said their first notice of trouble came in an eMail message sent at 9:26 a.m., after the second shooting had begun.

University president Charles Steger said the university decided to rely on eMail and other electronic means to spread the word, but he added that with 11,000 people driving onto campus first thing in the morning, it was difficult to get the word out.

Steger said that before the eMail messages went out, the university began telephoning resident advisers in the dorms and sent people to knock on doors. Students were warned to stay inside and away from the windows.

"We can only make decisions based on the information you had at the time. You don’t have hours to reflect on it," he said.

The University of Georgia has joined a small but growing number of institutions that are testing emergency-notification systems similar to what Virginia Tech had planned. Its service, provided by the California-based NTI Group, is voluntary and allows students to plug in various phone numbers and eMail addresses to a web site–and then transfers messages from the university using phone systems outside the affected area so it doesn’t jam local phone lines.

"One person may be receiving five different messages through five different means," says UGA spokesman Tom Jackson.

Systems similar to NTI Group’s include SchoolWorld’s Ed-Alert and Honeywell’s Instant Alert.

Netpresenter, a Netherlands-based company with U.S. offices in New York, offers software that can project a pop-up emergency alert on all PCs and digital signs connected to a network.

A campus-wide evacuation message can be issued in seconds to all PC screens, digital signage screens, or even student notebooks via a school’s local network or over the internet, Netpresenter says. The system is used to improve security at schools, airports, chemical companies, and hospitals such as Maine Medical Center.

Elsewhere, some universities are devising more targeted means of security in hopes of quickening their responses.

The University of Washington has a high-level safety team that was put in place after a murder-suicide. The aim is to move staffers who are in danger to other offices or provide them extra security protection. However, that system failed recently when a 26-year-old staffer was killed by her ex-boyfriend on April 2.

There’s also no guarantee that students will heed warnings.

Diane Brown, spokeswoman for the University of Michigan’s public safety department, says officials there sometimes have trouble getting students to exit buildings during fire alarms and other emergencies because of false alarms.

"How do you overcome that desensitization?" she asks.

She and others note that it’s also common for students to let strangers into dorms that are locked or require key cards. Propping doors open is also still a rampant practice.

And the fact of the matter is, campuses are largely open places where just about anyone–especially a student–is free to roam.

For that reason, college officials across the country agree that, in the end, no higher-education institution is immune to this kind of violence, no matter how well it prepares.

"Obviously, these crazy out-of-the-blue nightmare scenarios can happen just about anywhere," says John Holden, a spokesman at DePaul University in Chicago.

Until April 16, the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history was in Killeen, Texas, in 1991, when George Hennard plowed his pickup truck into a Luby’s Cafeteria and shot 23 people to death, then himself.

The April 16 shootings at Virginia Tech took place almost eight years to the day after the Columbine High School shootings near Littleton, Colo. On April 20, 1999, two teenagers killed 12 fellow students and a teacher before taking their own lives.

Previously, the deadliest campus shooting in U.S. history was a rampage in 1966 at the University of Texas at Austin, where Charles Whitman climbed the clock tower and opened fire. He killed 16 people before police shot him to death.

Links:

Virginia Tech University
http://www.vt.edu

International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators
http://www.iaclea.org

NTI Group’s Connect-ED
http://www.ntigroup.com

SchoolWorld’s Ed-Alert
http://www.schoolworld.com/edalert">http://www.schoolworld.com/edalert

Honeywell Instant Alert
https://buildingsolutions.honeywell.com/Cultures/en-US/ServicesSolutions/EmergencyNotifications/InstantAlertForSchools

Netpresenter
http://www.netpresenter.com

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ACUTA Survey Reveals Both Anticipation and Anxiety When it Comes to Implementing VOIP on Campus

LEXINGTON, Kentucky–April 18, 2007–More than 90 percent of higher education communications technology professionals say vendors of Voice over IP equipment are over-hyping the technology, according to a detailed survey by ACUTA, the Association for Communications Technology Professionals in Higher Education.

ACUTA today publicly released some of the key findings of its survey, which was conducted earlier this year and revealed to attendees at its recent IP Summit in Baltimore. ACUTA is the only international association dedicated to serving the needs of higher education communications technology professionals, representing nearly 2,000 individuals at some 770 institutions.
The survey, conducted among more than a third of ACUTA´s member colleges and universities, contained both good news and bad news for proponents of VoIP on campus. Even though 92 percent of respondents think vendors are pumping out hot air when it comes to VoIP, there is still tremendous interest in the applications that VoIP makes possible.

For instance, desktop video and videoconferencing is a VoIP benefit seen by 85 percent of respondents, with 83 percent seeing emergency notification as a plus. Seventy-nine percent of respondents anticipate campus benefits in audioconferencing, while 77 percent like the idea of IP-based security cameras. Other applications receiving sizable interest are interactive voice response, directory services, and voice over wireless.

At the same time, there are serious concerns among the communications technology members of ACUTA when it comes to VoIP. Four out of five survey respondents don´t believe the benefits of VoIP are compelling, nor do they believe it makes sense to spend money to replace equipment that is currently working well. A similar majority of respondents are concerned about security as well, fearing that their IP PBX could be hacked or become a target of a distributed denial of service attack.

Despite their reluctance regarding VoIP, 60 percent of ACUTA survey respondents realize that they need to embrace it as their traditional equipment comes to the end of its useful life. And despite their distrust of vendors´ VoIP claims overall, the college communications technology professionals say those vendors with whom they have a good history and a strong installed base have positively influenced their VoIP sentiments.
Jeri Semer, executive director of ACUTA, said the survey provides great insight into the outlook toward VoIP by the people who run campus communications networks. "ACUTA members are a very technology-aware group, and the industry can learn a lot by understanding the elements of VoIP that they value, as well as their concerns about IP technology and its applications," Semer said. "We look forward to continuing to survey our members as their outlook evolves."

A detailed 47-page report of the survey is available for a nominal fee to non-members of ACUTA. Visit www. acuta.org or call 859-278-3338 for more information, or see the executive summary online at www. acuta.org/?1779.

About ACUTA

ACUTA, the Association for Communications Technology Professionals in Higher Education, is an international non-profit educational association serving colleges and universities. Its core purpose is to support higher education communications technology professionals in contributing to the achievement of the strategic mission of their institutions. ACUTA represents nearly 2000 individuals at some 770 institutions of higher education, with members ranging from small schools and community colleges to the 50 largest U.S. institutions. ACUTA´s Corporate Affiliate members represent all categories of communications technology vendors serving the college/university market. For more information, visit www. acuta.org or call 859-278-3338.

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HOSTS Learning Announces Selection of Best Practices Award Recipients

Vancouver, WA — April 18, 2007–HOSTS Learning, a leading provider of K-12 learning management systems and academic mentoring and intervention programs, announced today that 20 schools in 13 states have been chosen as HOSTS Mentoring &Intervention (M&I) Best Practices Award winners for 2006.

This year´s winners were selected from over 500 eligible schools using the HOSTS Learning Solutions nationwide. To be considered for the annual honor, each school was required to submit a comprehensive, three-part application complete with letters of recommendations from teachers, parents, students, and mentors along with examples of individual learning plans. Schools were also asked to summarize the achievement results of students in the program including results from state, standardized, local, and other student achievement assessments.

"These schools were chosen because they exemplify our 35-year mission of helping one student to succeed–that´s what HOSTS stands for," said Bill Gibbons, founder of HOSTS Learning. "With dedicated teachers and caring community members they are simply the best practice examples of how schools can successfully close the achievement gap and accelerate student learning."

The applications were judged and scored by a group of experienced instructional and curriculum specialists on a 200-point scale in five categories, including: program leadership; implementation; achievement results; program impact and extension; and community connection. Each school that applied was also required to meet three additional criteria. Those benchmarks include: time of implementation — they had to have been using the HOSTS M&I Solution for a minimum of six months; scope of implementation — their implementation must have impacted a minimum of one classroom or 25 students; and student achievement–it was essential that the program produce assessment results that showed evidence of improved student achievement.

A complete list of winners is included with the news release and is available by going to www.hosts.com

About HOSTS Mentoring and Intervention Solution

The research-based HOSTS M & I Solution is designed to address specifically the individual learning needs of struggling K-12 students. It serves as a powerful classroom program that ties formative assessment data and research-based best practices together with school´s existing curriculum resources to create customized learning paths for each student.

About HOSTS Learning

For over 35 years, HOSTS Learning solutions have helped more than one million K-12 students improve their reading skills and math proficiencies through its research-based instructional management systems, professional growth services, and mentoring and intervention programs. The HOSTS school-wide solution holds the distinction of being the only structured learning system identified as significantly reducing academic failure in both the No Child Left Behind language and the IDEA reauthorization.

Based in Vancouver, WA, HOSTS Learning solutions are currently used in more than 525 schools in 40 U.S. states, Puerto Rico, and El Salvador. For more information, please visit www.hosts.com or call 1-800-833-4678.

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TutorVista and American Book Company Link to Provide Free Tutoring for Improved Test Scores

Woodstock, Georgia–April 17th, 2007–The American Book Company (ABC, www.americanbookcompany.com), the preeminent publisher specializing in standards-based state test preparation, today announced a partnership with individualized online tutoring and test preparation provider TutorVista (www.tutorvista.com) to offer free personalized tutoring to students nationwide.

This partnership gives every purchaser or school user of American Book Company test prep study guides a free online diagnostic assessment for their state exit, end of grade, or end of course exams. In addition, TutorVista will provide two free hours of one-on-one, live, custom tutoring where students are coached via an online platform that is downloaded on to a home computer and includes an interactive white-board, an instant messaging tool and an internet telephone system.

As educators, parents and students are increasingly faced with an overtaxed educational system burdened by a lack of resources, American Book Company and TutorVista´s partnership frees teachers from needing to administer and score diagnostic tests, further enabling them to clearly discern students´ strengths and weaknesses. Additionally, this partnership gives students added assistance in a variety of subjects and topics they need to succeed.

"This agreement steers a fundamental yet sensible new learning model that marries American Book Company´s outstanding series of test-prep study guides with TutorVista´s effective, affordable and convenient one-on-one tutoring," said Dr. John Stuppy, President of TutorVista. "This is a powerful combination that will give students the help and support needed to grasp essential concepts and achieve academic success."

Starting now, each student with an American Book Company product uses the book´s ISBN number to specify and take the assessment test online. Teachers can then get access to student´s assessment test results through TutorVista´s site and students are also able to use the ISBN number to register for TutorVista´s free tutoring.

"It is important for us to include TutorVista´s individualized tutoring services into our standards-based test preparation materials," stated Dr. Frank Pintozzi, Executive Vice President of American Book Company. "Pairing our strengths delivers a unique kind of instruction, one in which students will experience success in challenging areas of the school curriculum. That´s what education is all about."

About American Book Company

Started by a family of educators in 1996, American Book Company´s mission is to provide state specific standards based instructional materials for exit exams, end of grade tests, and end of course assessments. Having now served more than two million students, American Book Company´s books, software, and flashcards offer clear and concise explanations and practice on the specific content standards tested in each state. Its instructional materials are also designed to improve concept and skill development in mathematics, reading, English Language Arts, science, and social studies. For more information on American Book Company, go to: www.americanbookcompany.com

About TutorVista

Launched in 2005, TutorVista is an online tutoring company that provides affordable tutoring and test preparation in the United States and United Kingdom. TutorVista uses technology to bring high-quality, affordable, convenient one-on-one tutoring to the student´s home or school using highly qualified tutors. TutorVista is the solution to problems like declining test scores, a shortage of teachers, and the need for affordable and effective supplementary education and test preparation. To learn more about TutorVista programs, go to: TutorVista.com

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Gefen Helps Create Virtual Reality in Germany´s University of Applied Sciences

MUNICH, Germany–The University of Applied Sciences at Furtwangen recently initiated its decision to create a virtual reality laboratory in which Media Lab students could create real-world strategies in a three dimensional environment.

Innovative for its use of current technology to create an engaging virtual reality, the laboratory offers a training and experimental environment in which all possible facets of a project may be explored before students proceed with the best solution.

Implemented by SDI GmbH in Munich, the lab uses strategically placed high definition video projection supplemented by wave field synthesis loudspeakers located around the circumference of the lab. Connectivity equipment supplied by Gefen ensured the delivery of high definition visuals with no latency period.

"The technical basis for the visual distribution is the use of six projectors located in a hinged installation, each beaming high definition images on a massive rear projection screen," explained Thorsten Goecke, SDI product manager. "By polarizing the various projections, the presentation appears absolutely three-dimensional as life-size imagery flashes across the screen."

To distribute the data required for high definition video, SDI relied on an assortment of Gefen HDTV extenders and splitters to deliver simultaneous imagery throughout the lab. Gefen´s fiber optics cabling was installed to ensure an unadulterated distribution of all video signals.

To compliment the video, SDI installed loudspeakers in circumferential alignment, conveying an auditory authenticity for research and teaching at the highest level.

A high resolution image of the Media Lab is located here: http://forum.gefen.com/linda/IMG-Furtwangen.jpg

About SDI GmbH:

Success through competence–this is SDI. Based in Munich, Germany, this media-technology company is engaged in the planning, projection and realization of audio/video production and television studios, as well as miscellaneous media and technical facilities. SDI also distributes high-quality equipment and all modules of audio and video technology. Central to SDI´s success is its knowledge and competence amassed from more than 15 years of experience. In the technically selective area of a/v systems, this is the basis for all successful implementations. For further information please visit www.sdi-munich.de.

About Gefen:

Gefen delivers professional quality audio/video solutions with multi-platform extension, integration, distribution and conversion capabilities. Gefen equipment is valued all over the world in professional AV/IT and consumer electronics/home theater environments. Their add-on hardware maximizes system functionality by enabling AV systems to operate beyond their original capabilities. A selection of high quality cabling is also available. Visit www.gefen.com for detailed product information.

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Xirrus Provides Over One Square Mile of Outdoor Wireless Coverage Using Only Five Wi-Fi Arrays

Westlake Village, Calif.–April 17, 2007–Xirrus, Inc., the only provider of high-performance, long-range Wi-Fi products, announced today verification by The Tolly Group that demonstrates only five Xirrus Wi-Fi Arrays are needed to cover a one square mile area–greatly simplifying installation and lowering deployment costs for campus-wide Wi-Fi networks by reducing the number of devices required. By comparison, competitive solutions typically require 20 or more devices to cover the same area.

This exceptional outdoor Wi-Fi range, together with the high capacity, multi-radio architecture of the Xirrus Array, enables high-demand applications such as video-over-Wi-Fi while still greatly reducing costs. Xirrus recently announced that Charleston Southern University selected its Wi-Fi Arrays for the first-ever all-wireless video and audio streaming of NCAA events. For more information, please see http://www.xirrus.com/cgi-bin/press_releases.cgi?id=140&template=1.

Engineers from The Tolly Group, an independent testing and strategic consulting organization, deployed a set of five Xirrus XS-3900 Wi-Fi Arrays to evaluate the real-world outdoor coverage and performance metrics using standard 802.11a/b/g notebook computer clients.

The Tolly Group test highlights concluded that Xirrus´ Wi-Fi Array:

*Provides more than a full square mile of wireless coverage area using a total of five XS-3900 Wi-Fi Arrays

*Offers up to a 36Mbps data rate connection from a distance of 1,500 feet between the Wi-Fi Array and a wireless notebook computer

*Creates an all-wireless Fast Ethernet-speed backbone by bonding multiple radios together, enabling applications such as video to be delivered over Wi-Fi

"Given the costs associated with procuring and installing outdoor access points, solutions that increase both transmission rate and signal range can provide significant value for campuses by decreasing the amount of access points and cabling required," said Dirk Gates, CEO of Xirrus. "The long range and high performance characteristics of the Wi-Fi Array make it an ideal solution for deploying new wireless applications like outdoor video surveillance systems in locations where provisioning a wired backhaul is difficult or cost prohibitive."

"Our test results highlighted that Xirrus harnesses the power of its multi-radio, multi-antenna solution to create a wireless backbone transparent to applications," said Kevin Tolly, president, CEO and founder of The Tolly Group. "Xirrus delivers the equivalent of a wired link aggregation in an easy to deploy, cost-effective solution."

Xirrus Wi-Fi Arrays provide superior wireless backhaul capabilities allowing up to 16 of its Integrated Access Points (IAPs) to form independent or bonded backhaul links that create either point-to-point or point-to-multi-point Wi-Fi connections between Arrays. Compared to competitive solutions that require backhaul radios to time share between servicing clients and performing backhaul functions, downstream throughput tests conducted by The Tolly Group illustrated that even at a distance of 1,700 feet (almost 1/3 mile), a standard Wi-Fi notebook computer still received 1 Mbps of throughput–nearly the throughput of a dedicated T1 circuit.

A copy of the report can be downloaded at The Tolly Group Reports.

About The Tolly Group

The Tolly Group, an independent testing and strategic consulting organization based in Boca Raton, FL., offers a full range of services designed to furnish both the vendor and end-user communities with authoritative and unbiased information. Additionally, The Tolly Group is recognized worldwide for its expertise in assessing leading-edge technologies. For more information on The Tolly Group´s services, visit its Web site at www.tolly.com, E-mail info@tolly.com, call (561) 391-5610, or fax (561) 391-5810.

About Xirrus

Xirrus is the award-winning leader in high performance, long range Wi-Fi. Xirrus manufactures the patented Wi-Fi Array platform that integrates up to 16 radios with an onboard Gigabit Switch, Wi-Fi Controller, Firewall, and dedicated Wi-Fi Threat Sensor into a single device. The Xirrus solution delivers 2X the range, 4X the coverage, 14X the throughput, and requires 75% less devices, cabling, switch ports, and installation time compared to any competitive solution. Xirrus Wi-Fi Arrays are ideal for any organization deploying Wi-Fi, especially those that require support for large coverage areas, dense user populations, and high bandwidth applications.

Xirrus is a privately-held company headquartered in Westlake Village, California. For more information, please visit www.xirrus.com.

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Student leaders back fee to update technology

The Orlando Sentinel reports that student leaders from Florida’s public universities are hoping to gain additional support for proposed legislation that would permit schools to levy fees each semester in order to invest in technology improvements on campus. The student leaders say the money is necessary to equip schools with the latest technology that would facilitate better learning. This legislation would give students a voice in what technology would be pursued and implemented, as well as how much students have to pay for it…

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/state/orl-techfee1707apr17,0,4414090.story?coll=orl-news-headlines-state

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Robotics trio wins ‘Super Bowl’ of smarts

CNN.com reports that a coalition of high school teams from Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Nevada took top prize at the FIRST Robotics Competition, otherwise known as the "Super Bowl of Smarts." Bobcat Robotics from South Windsor, Connecticut, Highrollers from Las Vegas, Nevada, and Gompei and the HERD from Worcester, Massachusetts, won before thousands of screaming fans. However, the competition is more than just building a good robot in order to make it to the final round. Team members had to scout other players and come up with a three-team coalition…

http://www.cnn.com/2007/TECH/04/14/robot.compete/index.html

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Journalists look to bloggers for Va. Tech story

Online news source CNET reports that when a blogger with the handle "icantread01" posted a tale of his girlfriend’s ordeal during the Virginia Tech massacre, it set off a flurry of trying to reach him. Reporters from several noted news organizations including NPR, CBC Newsworld, and others all posted in the comments section of his LiveJournal page, seeking to contact him. The interest shown in this posting demonstrated dynamic that is special to Web 2.0—that of bloggers posting their experiences to their own sites, and others such as Flickr and YouTube…

http://news.com.com/Journalists+look+to+bloggers+for+Virginia+Tech+story/2100-1025_3-6176579.html?tag=nefd.top

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