February 3, 2021

Case Study: University of Alberta

Team Samdesk by Team Samdesk

The University of Alberta is the 5th largest university in Canada, with over 50,000 students, staff and researchers. The University boasts 3 different campuses in Alberta, as well as dozens of travel abroad, and research programs around the world. 

The main University campus is almost 6 square kilometers alone and houses some of the top research facilities in the country. The emergency management team has found that the general population of the University is more likely to use social media on campus to ask for information or to share up-to-the-minute details about an incident. Students, faculty, families, and local communities have an expectation of the University of Alberta to keep them informed and be aware of critical events that might affect safety. 

This is why the University of Alberta turned to samdesk for help. 

How samdesk helps the University of Alberta

Samdesk uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to detect crisis events within minutes of occurrence by scanning publicly available social and web data. Our alerts help the University of Alberta stay ahead of events that might impact operations and student safety both locally and globally. 

“We used to conduct manual daily reviews of news sources, often only finding out about critical events when we were notified by the supervisors of people directly affected, or when someone in our community manually forwarded us a social media post. This could be a delay of hours or days to be notified and respond to an incident. Now with samdesk we have a tool to do the scanning, filtering and alerting automatically, as soon as an event is detected. This tailored feed saves us time and ensures the safety of our students and faculty.” – Adam Conway, University of Alberta

University of Alberta staff act on an alert from samdeskUniversity of Alberta staff act on an alert from samdesk


We spoke with Adam Conway, Emergency Management Team Lead at the University of Alberta, about how his team uses samdesk.

1. How does samdesk help you to achieve your mission? 

Because we operate continually around the world, samdesk’s ability to monitor multiple sites at all times means that we have virtual oversight to keep our workers and students safe and we can react quickly to protect our people, our research, and our partners.

2. What makes samdesk different from other alerting tools you may have used in the past?

We, previously, had to manually check our sources against our own filtering list of locations, and then copy and paste information from one source into another and then share it with relevant supervisors. We also subscribe to tools that provide daily and weekly reports of critical events happening around the world. In the past, if we relied only on these sources, we would only be notified of a sudden major shift, which normally comes into our inboxes several hours after the change or event has happened. Although this information is still important, samdesk offers instant, real-time data, that we can use when time is of the essence. Samdesk also allows us to send updates via email and monitor around the clock with mobile app access.

“Samdesk’s biggest advantage is speed. If I have someone who needs support, I can get them moving faster. Relying on traditional methods makes our vulnerabilities worse.”

3. What made you choose samdesk?

Samdesk’s support to us and other responding agencies during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated their commitment to public safety and rapid response and made us eager to use their technology. Further, other international contractors provide different capacities, but samdesk was unique in its ability to parse, evaluate, and share incident information with our front-line response staff.

The University of Alberta's Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary ScienceThe University of Alberta's Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science

4. How do you use samdesk alerts?

We built a process in 5 minutes that took Samdesk Alerts and turned them into text messages. These automatically get sent out to our principal responders. An alert will come through as an email, which then gets forwarded to SMTP messaging — this will include the incident, location, which Samdesk Stream it’s from, and a link to view more details. This takes 47 seconds on average for a text message to come through, once an email alert has been received.

5. What kind of Alerts does the University of Alberta act on?

We act on Alerts based on the geographical location of our field researchers, and our sites, responding to any incident that may pose a risk to our people, or any incident that may threaten a geographical area that includes our campuses and research sites, or both.

Ensuring student safety in real-time

On April 29, 2020, samdesk alerted UAlberta of a fire developing in South Korea. Their security team was monitoring the area due to two students who were on an abroad program in Seoul. Within minutes, they were able to reach out to their students in South Korea confirming their whereabouts and safety status. This allowed the executive team to confidently reassure everyone that students were safe, well before they received any inquiries about the incident.

With samdesk we were able to rapidly reassure the department that this event did not affect our students, saving so much time.

Adam Conway notes that there is a tremendous amount of resources needed to notify everyone during a crisis. He says that “with samdesk we were able to rapidly reassure the department that this event did not affect our students, saving so much time.” As an employer, and an educational institution, the University of Alberta has a responsibility to ensure the safety of staff, and students, including those who are studying or researching remotely.

“Samdesk has become a crucial part of our response plans.
Monitoring the areas that our students and staff are currently in, allows us to extend supports proactively to anyone who may be impacted by physical threats or events that might have an effect on mental wellbeing.”

Creating safer educational spaces 

Samdesk works directly with each client to ensure that the platform is optimized for the type of alerts and areas they care about most. 

Conway notes that the University of Alberta “would highly recommend samdesk for finding real-time crisis alerts and keeping educational institutions safe.” For him, and the security team at UAlberta, the ability to set up multiple channels for different scenarios as needed for things like special travel and various types of risks, has “not only saved [them] time but has also made the University of Alberta a safer place to work and study in.

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