Blackboard Connect Used To Send 9.7 million Swine Flu-Related Messages at Height of Panic

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Blackboard has reported that during just eight days, from April 27 to May 4, its notification system, Blackboard Connect, was used by United States schools and government workers to send some 9.8 million messages tied to updates and information about the swine flu.

About 40 percent of the messages dealt with the flu outbreak. Users communicated information through e-mail, voicemail, and text messages, including updates on potential cases and precautionary measures being taken to help control the spread of disease and eliminate undue panic in communities.

As an example, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) used Blackboard Connect Monday, April 27, within the first hours of public concern over the flu. Kimberly Uyeda, the district's director of student medical services recorded and sent the following message to 713,000 recipients, in both English and Spanish:

"We want to inform you, at this time, there are no known cases of the swine flu in our schools. The school district is working closely with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health to protect the health of students and staff. More than 600 school nurses are monitoring student absences and custodians are washing down common areas at school sites more frequently, on an as-needed basis. Schools are currently open and we are urging everyone to follow these simple steps: Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze; wash your hands frequently; if you are sick, stay home; if your child is sick, please do not send him or her to school."

"Because California borders Mexico and so many of our students have family ties to cities in Mexico where the outbreak first hit, it was imperative that we quickly and effectively addressed the issue," said Uyeda in a statement. "On the morning of April 27, our phone lines were swamped by concerned parents who wanted to know if schools were closed, and most importantly, if their children would be safe. From my office phone, we were able to record and send an assuring message, in English and Spanish, to parents, students and staff. The incoming calls quickly subsided and we were able to focus on keeping our students safe."

Other school leaders used the Blackboard Connect service to report suspected flu cases and quickly communicate campus closures, including Max Riley, superintendent of Port Jefferson Union Free School District in New York.

"After the Governor issued a state of awareness, it was crucial that we communicate with parents quickly and directly to inform them of the health and safety precautions our school district was actively taking," Riley said. "With the Blackboard Connect platform, we were able to effectively convey those important messages directly to parents in a matter of minutes."

Blackboard Connect was derived from technology acquired with Blackboard's buyout of NTI Group in early 2008. The company's mass notification and emergency alert system is used in both K-12 and higher education environments.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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