Wat(un)SAFE? Student starts petition in a call for action against WatSAFE failure


Dimitri Jorgji, a second-year health sciences student, wants to see change from UW following the failure of its official safety app, WatSAFE, to alert community members about the attacks in Hagey Hall as they were happening.

Various UW community members, such as professor Emmet Macfarlane, posted on Twitter that they had not received any notifications from WatSAFE, despite it having been tested earlier the same day. Other community members, including professor James Skidmore posted that the first notification he received from the app came at 5:24 p.m.

Jorgji started the petition on change.org, titled WAT unSAFE, on July 3, the Monday after the attacks. As of the writing of this article, the petition has 169 signatures. 

In the petition, Jorgji calls for UW to “completely rework” their emergency alert system and install multiple methods of emergency alerts.

Jorgji said that the word-of-mouth way from which most people learned of the situation only made things worse, stating that “a proper learning system would have given people proper information instead of relying on word-of-mouth, which could have been misleading, could have been damaging to the investigation and the overall safety at the time.”

“I don’t really plan on stopping until something actionable, in my opinion, is done by the administration,” Jorgji said. He cited research he had done into other universities’ emergency alert systems and the variety of methods those systems employed, including text messages, automated calls to phones on campus, and instructions from PA systems, in comparison to what he called UW’s “one-dimensional” system. An example of this is McMaster University, whose emergency alert system sends notifications to its desktop and computer systems, video information screens in buildings around campus, and their safety app.

“We don’t have that, all we have is an app that will tell you that there was an incident one hour after it happened,” he said.

The current communication channels of the university’s emergency alert system include notifications to the WatSAFE mobile app, tweets from the UWaterloo and WatSAFE Twitter accounts, Portal alerts and push notifications, and pop-ups for desktops and laptops which have the WatSAFE Desktop Notification tool installed.

Jorgji also cited UW’s initial Instagram post about the incident, a screenshot of text from the Notes app with the picture-in-picture feature visibly enabled, as another reason why he was disappointed with the university’s response. “That’s not [the] way a world-renowned university should respond to an incident like this.”

Nick Manning, associate vice-president of communications, stated, “These things don’t happen everyday, and [to] get information out really quickly and be really clear about what’s happening and what people needed to know, our team did the thing that was most obvious to them, which was to write a message and post it from their Notes app.” 

In response to community members’ comments on UW’s Instagram account discussing the now-deleted Notes-app post and their dissatisfaction with it, Manning said, “I don’t know that it’s insensitive … in fact I would say it was sensitive of the team to think that they needed to get information out as quickly as possible and use whatever means they could, and that’s what they did.”

Jorgji also hopes that the university will clarify what the “comprehensive review” of UW’s emergency systems, as stated in the president’s email sent out on July 4 to students and staff, will entail. 

“I’d really hope it’s some of its students, staff, faculty, the Waterloo Region Police Service and not just you know, the people who might have been setting up the WatSAFE app, like the Special Constable Service, the executives, the Safety Office. It needs to really be an all-around effort to best improve safety on campus,” he said.

Jorgji promised to be present at the community forums taking place on July 17, where community members will have a chance to voice their concerns and questions regarding campus safety and inclusivity. “Some people, they might not want to step up in a way that you know, the university will listen, and I think, you know, it’s unfortunate, but someone needs to do it. And if it has to be me, I’ll do it.”