Thanks to a collaboration between Facilities Services and Emergency Management and Planning, Carolina students, faculty and staff who opt in can receive outage notifications on their mobile phones when a campus elevator is out of service. Launched in September 2023, these elevator outage push notifications are delivered through the Carolina Ready Safety App and posted on a web dashboard that tracks outages and repairs of public elevators on the Carolina campus. Push notifications inform recipients which elevator is out of service and whether another accessible elevator is available in that building. Users can also access an online dashboard to learn when each elevator is back in service.
The new notification system was created in response to student concerns about the impact of elevator outages on individuals with disabilities. Student organizations — including campus disability advocacy groups Disability Advocates, Tar Heels at the Table (THATT), Crips in College and the Campus Y — advocated for UNC-Chapel Hill to meet the needs of all its students. Eleanor Bolton ’25 and Christine Mendoza ’24, who each use a wheelchair, know firsthand how elevator outages negatively affect students.
Mendoza, an executive officer with THATT, says that the push notification offers an official, easy-to-use and centralized way for users to know when elevators are down. “This enables students to plan to use an alternate elevator or to talk with a professor about making an appropriate accommodation,” she says. “Push notifications are important in the context of larger accessibility efforts going on at the University, which we’re excited about.”
“This tool is a product of that collaboration and our thinking outside of the box to use some of our existing resources to address this challenge.”
Creating the functionality for the push notification in the Carolina Ready Safety App fell to Justin Miller, Carolina’s Emergency Management Coordinator. Miller coordinated with Facilities Services to create the back-end functionality in Veoci, virtual emergency operations management software, to record and track outages for internal awareness, the web dashboard and the push notifications. He says that a collaborative process led by Finance and Operations — with input from student groups, Accessibility Resources & Service, and the Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office — defined the project scope and processes involved within it.
“We didn’t want to throw a technology solution at the problem without analyzing whether this was the right tool and was sustainable,” says Miller. “Ultimately, we realized that utilizing both Veoci and the app could solve the problem. This tool is a product of that collaboration and our thinking outside of the box to use some of our existing resources to address this challenge.”
When an elevator outage occurs, Curtis Messier, UNC-Chapel Hill’s elevator contracts administrator, pushes out the notifications and dispatches one of the five elevator technicians assigned to campus to take care of the repair. Messier says that the push notification system has eliminated the need for him to send multiple emails and make many calls to let members of the community know about an outage. He says that the new tool is important because it facilitates communication.
“The tool allows Facilities to communicate in a timely and consistent manner with the campus,” says Messier. He encourages ongoing feedback on the system from users.
Bolton — who co-chairs the Disability Advocates Committee, serves on the executive board of the Campus Y and is advisor to the chancellor — says that the elevator outage system has been helpful for campus leaders like herself to advocate for students whose classes might be inaccessible due to an elevator outage.
“I think the push notifications are a helpful tool in making sure that disabled students can make informed decisions about what their day looks like before they begin to trek across campus,” she says. “I hope that the administration continues to strive to make the campus more inclusive and accessible and aligned with the Americans with Disabilities Act. I’m happy that people are finally understanding the gravity of this situation and hopefully are working to achieve a more equitable experience for all UNC students.”