Updated August 21, 2014, 7:55 a.m.
Alert Carolina isn’t wasting any time testing its emergency messaging system at the start of the school year, but is that the fastest way information is shared on UNC’s campus?
Alert Carolina will test its text message system and its sirens between 12:00 noon and 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday, just the second day of classes for Carolina students.
But one way members of the Carolina campus sometimes get timely warning messages faster is through social media, specifically the “Overheard at UNC” group on Facebook.
“We’re not a professional alert system, we just have the benefit of social media with, you know, 15,000+ subscribers, so any one person can really post an alert, and then the power of social media can verify whether that’s a valid or invalid claim,” says Ian Helfrich, one of the five administrators of the group and a recent UNC graduate.
He says Overheard and Alert Carolina work best when information is shared hand-in-hand. When that happens, Helfrich says, the campus is very accepting of Alert Carolina.
“It just provides a sense of security, like the University’s really looking out for its students,” Helfrich says. “It provides a professional alert system.”
However, if messages on Overheard beat Alert Carolina, some frustrations have been made very clear on the campus group.
“One of the people who was involved in the incident actually posted first,” Helfrich says. “That was just a couple minutes before Alert Carolina got out. It is faster. The tradeoff is it’s not always the most accurate information, whereas Alert Carolina, when they post something, when they send it out to the student body, it is the official University word on what’s going on.”
He says the limited staff of Alert Carolina compared to the nearly unlimited eyes, ears, and voices of the Carolina community play the leading role in the time difference.
In that specific incident, a man reportedly pulled a knife on a student in the student union and fled to Franklin Street. You can see the comment that lead to more than 100 comments, 70 or so of which came before the suspect was apprehended.
Helfrich says all the founding members of Overheard graduated a while ago but that the administrators after them have continued the tradition of an open portal for free-flowing, often fun conversation about anything on campus.
Overheard has guidelines that must be followed in order to remain a part of the group. No ads, promotions, plugs, or inappropriate or irrelevant posts may be posted, according to the group’s about section. On Sunday, the administrators sent out a reminder that if anyone breaks the rules, the post and the member who posted it will be removed.
***Update: Sunday’s message was to welcome people to the new school year and was a “friendly reminder” to post appropriately. The administrator commented on the page saying, in part, “We aren’t what we were. No need to make people feel warned/in trouble…”