STAFF EDITORIAL: UNLAlert a great idea, but needs some work

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  • STAFF EDITORIAL: UNLAlert a great idea, but needs some work

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STAFF EDITORIAL: UNLAlert a great idea, but needs some work

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By:Editorial Staff
Posted: 8/29/07

This summer, University Police, in cooperation with Information Services and University Communications, implemented a new software system called UNLAlert, most likely in response to the April shootings at Virginia Tech.

The software, which students can download and install on their computers, communicates with UNL servers to provide alerts and updates in emergency situations. The thinking is that during an emergency, better communication and dissemination of information leads to a safer campus.

We applaud the continuing effort of the university to keep students safe, but the software is by no means an all-inclusive safety net.

Far from it, in fact.

The software isn't much of an application at all. It's essentially a stand-alone Flash file - University Police are harnessing the same technology used to bring you online Su-Do-Ku puzzles and amusing "Pac-Man" imitation games.

And it's big. Really big, actually. Its executable image, the program's memory footprint, is about 16 megabytes - bigger than AOL Instant Messenger and Mozilla Firefox, both of which are full-fledged desktop applications.

It should come as no surprise, then, that it constantly consumed almost 10 percent of the processing resources on one of our brand new 2.2-gigahertz design computers.

To put that in perspective: Adobe Photoshop, Apple iTunes, and Mozilla Firefox together use less than 3 percent while idle. UNLAlert is no little program that runs in the background.

It's not a big deal, though, right? Who cares if it slows down your machine a bit - this application could save your life.

Right?

Assuming the two servers that are responsible for handling all the emergency alert requests for the entire campus - alert1 and alert2 - stay online, then yes, it could save your life.

But, after reverse-engineering and analyzing the software, we're not only disappointed with its performance, we're disappointed with the way information is being distributed to computers.

Instead of using industry-standard TCP/IP multicast, which allows data to be distributed to all "subscribers" simultaneously, instantly and efficiently, Information Services is using a simple Web server to distribute information.

In an emergency situation, this could lead to heavy network congestion, which could then slow all of our Internet connections on campus to a stand-still.

A slow, unresponsive network probably won't help emergency responders, university officials, students or staff.

UNLAlert is a great idea that's been poorly executed.

With a software rewrite and more robust network design, UNLAlert would prove to be a valuable tool. Until then, it might cause more problems than it solves.

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Original Source:<a href=http://media.www.dailynebraskan.com/media/storage/paper857/news/2007/08/29/Opinion/Staff.Editorial.Unlalert.A.Great.Idea.But.Needs.Some.Work-2941116.shtml>Daily Nebraskan - August 29, 2007</a>

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Editorial Board

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Daily Nebraskan

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2007-09-03

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Sara AA Hood

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Josh Swartzlander <jdwriter19@yahoo.com>

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eng

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Editorial Board, "STAFF EDITORIAL: UNLAlert a great idea, but needs some work," in The April 16 Archive, Item #1265, http://www.april16archive.org/items/show/1265 (accessed December 28, 2014).