Code Maroon helps keep the Aggies out of harm’s way

The official Code Maroon app provides notifications for every Code Maroon alert along with information on emergency procedures and a variety of other helpful resources.

Laura McKenzie/Texas A&M University Division of Marketing and Communications

Over a period of months in 2012, the world of higher education was rocked by a wave of bomb threats at colleges and universities across the United States, requiring mass evacuations and quick thinking. from security officials.

When a threatens was made against Texas A&M University in October, the university was ready, recalls director of crisis communications Monica Martinez, who then served as A&M’s emergency management coordinator. Security personnel quickly sent a message via the code brown emergency alert system, ordering all students, faculty and staff to leave campus immediately – on foot, if possible, to avoid the kinds of traffic jams that had slowed evacuations at other universities.

Overall, Martinez said, the process went remarkably well, and teams were quickly able to start scanning each building for potential threats: “People listened to Code Maroon, we were able to give updates regular updates on what was going on and then they were able to return to campus later in the day,” she said.

As Martinez notes, the 2012 evacuation is just one stark example of why a fast and efficient emergency alert system is a necessity for Texas A&M, which is one of the largest universities of the country, both in terms of physical size and student population.

Whether there’s a tornado on the horizon or an active shooter in the area, she said the teams behind Code Maroon work hard to ensure all Aggies get the information they need in times of crisis, whether on their phones, through their computers, or on campus speaker systems.

“We want to keep the people on our campus informed of what’s going on so they can take appropriate action,” Martinez said.

Why Code Brown?

While colleges and universities have long been required by law to have some form of emergency notification system in place, most institutions relied on rudimentary email-based systems until the mid-1980s. 2000, said Chris Meyer, former associate vice president for safety and security. The need for faster, more robust systems was highlighted by the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech, which left 33 dead and 23 injured.

“After Virginia Tech, universities were looking for a more efficient and quicker notification system than email distribution,” Meyer said.

Texas A&M quickly teamed up with an outside vendor to bring such a system to Aggieland, and within months the first iteration of Code Maroon was born – although it wouldn’t actually be called Code Maroon until around 2008. Meyer said.

Since then, A&M officials have continually sought to upgrade and expand the system, changing vendors in 2010 and again in 2020 to ensure the university has the best tools.

Today, whenever there is a potential threat to the safety and security of the campus community, a Code Maroon message can be sent within moments by the university police department or other members of the public safety personnel. In order to reach as many people as possible, alerts are sent via SMS, email, social media, loudspeaker systems and a variety of others communication channels including the official Brown Code App.

To ensure that every alert is taken seriously, Martinez said Code Maroon is strictly reserved for life-threatening situations on or around the Texas A&M campus. Information on less serious or less urgent situations will be transmitted by other means.

“We’re in a time where there’s so much information being broadcast, emailed, put in front of us all the time,” Martinez said. “And so we try to temper the frequency with which we send messages and focus them only on the safety of people so that they are not ignored in an emergency.”

In part due to the character limits of text messages, each Code Maroon alert is short and succinct, containing the most important information and instructions for a given situation. Recipients are encouraged to click on the link to Texas A&M’s emergency information site for more details.

This site also contains links to a series of emergency procedures pages, offering practical advice for a wide variety of dangerous situations on campus. Martinez recommends everyone take the time to familiarize themselves with these procedures.

“Be careful when you receive a Code Maroon message,” she said. “And prepare in advance about what to do in different types of emergencies.”

Test, test

To ensure the system is always up and running when needed, Texas A&M IT staff closely monitors every use of Code Maroon, including monthly test deployments, to ensure alerts are received on all canals.

“There’s a lot of technology involved, and we have a lot of automated equipment and software that we’ve developed to monitor the various systems to basically give us a heartbeat to make sure everything is running and running smoothly,” said Marlin Crouse, a software application developer in the Computer Division.

A lot of manual monitoring is also involved, said IT manager Tracy Persky: “We have a small group of people who will sit together on a Zoom call and watch whatever channels we can.”

Persky and Crouse said they are always looking for ways to continue developing and improving the system. For example, the Code Maroon app is a relatively recent addition – which they say is particularly useful not only for students, but also for parents or visitors who want to receive up-to-date information on campus safety.

“Guests who come to town for soccer games can now download the mobile app to receive alerts,” Persky said.

Ultimately, Meyer said, the more people Code Maroon can reach, the more likely those people are to receive timely information that could save their lives.

“It’s such a robust technology and such a redundant set of technologies that gives you a lot of confidence,” he said, “that even if something were to go wrong on one of the distribution, we’re still going to get the word out in a lot of ways, and people are going to find out what they need to know.

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