Part of Missoula's everlasting charm has always been its reluctance to swift change. Social trends tend to take about a decade to hit town. People still use checks to pay for groceries. Techno gadgets—hello, iPhone—are notoriously late to hit our shelves. Even emergency alert notifications, it turns out, arrive late.
Students and faculty at the University of Montana learned this last fact Tuesday afternoon after threatening e-mails to the law school claimed a gunman would be—or already was—atop the building. The school's dean sent out an e-mail at 11:13 a.m. calling for the building to be evacuated. The administration's official emergency alert was sent via e-mail and text message at 12:27 p.m., or 74 minutes later. Some students and faculty contacted the Independent to say they signed up for the emergency list, but never received any notification at all.
UM Vice President Jim Foley declined to explain the delay, only telling the Independent the alert system would be evaluated. In an interview with the Missoulian, he said the process worked "reasonably well." No matter who was asking the questions, he offered no specifics of the threatening e-mails, no details of the investigation, and would not divulge how many people are on the emergency notification list. Other than that, he answered questions reasonably well. Reasonably, by the way, is an extremely convenient word.
Also convenient—or , say, lucky—is that Tuesday's scare amounts to a test-run of a system that may need a little tweaking. No gunman appeared on the rooftop and, other than the shock of a few dozen heavily armed officers storming across campus with little explanation, there was nothing to get worked up over. Attention will now turn to assessing and shortening the 74-minute delay—a reasonable delay, perhaps, considering all the chaos of the moment, and the hassle it must be to hit "send" on an e-mail.
What's 74 minutes, really? It's the exact duration of Gangsta Blac's 1999 southern rap album 74 Minutes of Bump. It's the length of Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas. It's also slightly longer than the amount of time Missoula Marathon winner Kiefer Hahn would probably need to finish the half-marathon. More seriously, it's roughly an hour less than Virginia Tech officials took to alert their campus of the 2007 shootings that ended up killing 33 and wounding 20—and prompted universities nationwide to create better emergency alert systems.
Seventy-four minutes can be easily improved. The only question is whether we'll set the improvement before or after iPhones finally hit local shelves.