The failure of Virginia Tech's text-messaging alert system has raised questions about the effectiveness of such systems to warn faculty members and students of an emergency -- an important consideration as schools nationwide continue to invest in these technologies.

One researcher who specializes in mass-communications systems warns that the use of text messaging to alert students of danger could bog down cellular networks and block phone calls from students or faculty members trying to contact local authorities, but industry experts and many higher-education officials insist there are ways to reliably send thousands of warning messages without interference.

On Nov. 13, Virginia Tech's VT Alert System--designed to...

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