Shots were fired near Oklahoma City University on Tuesday, but many students, faculty and staff didn't receive a text message alert until several hours later.
OCU officials say they expect the university's text message warning system to be more effective the next time it's used.
“We have a solution coming,” said Gerry Hunt, OCU's chief information officer. “It unfortunately just isn't here yet.”
The campus was put on lockdown about 10:20 p.m. Tuesday after Oklahoma City police received reports of shots fired in the 1900 block of NW 29. University officials issued an alert through a variety of outlets, including email and text message notices.
Warnings also appeared on the university's website, Facebook page and Twitter account. The lockdown was lifted at 11 p.m. after police arrived at the scene and found nothing.
Although the email and text message alerts were sent at the same time, the text message alert reached some students immediately and others hours later.
Trevor Rush, an OCU senior, said he noticed a drastic difference in when he received the alert compared with when friends received the same notice.
Rush said he was sitting in his room about 10 p.m. Tuesday and heard about five loud pops coming from somewhere outside.
“It didn't sound like firecrackers at all,” he said. “It sounded like a gun.”
About a half hour later, he received a text message telling him the campus was on lockdown. Soon afterward, he received another message saying the lockdown had been lifted.
But one of Rush's fraternity brothers received the all-clear message about 1 a.m. Wednesday and then received the original warning message two hours later.
The incident highlighted problems with OCU's text message alert system that university officials had been aware of and are working to address, Hunt said.
About 3,000 OCU employees and students are subscribed to the alert system, Hunt said.
When a large number of messages is sent from a single source all at once, Hunt said, it often resembles the denial-of-service attacks hackers sometimes use to shut down web servers. Mobile phone carriers often limit large volumes of messages to avoid being inundated with phony messages, he said. That can cause delays like the ones many students saw Tuesday evening.
Even before the incident Tuesday, the university was in the process of replacing the system. The new system should deliver text messages instantly, he said. University officials began implementing the system about two weeks ago and expect it to be operational soon.
The email notices reached subscribers instantly, Hunt said. The university also sends out pop-up alerts to anyone using campus computers warning them of emergencies. Officials also rely on word-of-mouth. Once an official alert is sent, word tends to spread quickly, he said.
“If you're here on campus, you know,” Hunt said. “If you're plugged in electronically at all, you get the notification very rapidly.”