Colleges Enhancing Security
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Catholic University in the District is adding sirens to its security cameras. Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., will start training students how to get out of harm's way during a crisis. The Citadel in Charleston, S.C., has decided to break its tradition of open barrack doors and install locks.
After the shootings at Virginia Tech last week, scores of schools across the country have implemented measures to bolster security and improve communication .
"We are moving fast in terms of finding mechanisms to get people's attention in an emergency," said Alan G. Merten, George Mason University's president. "But the real question is what do you say to the community after you've got their attention."
The changes are an acknowledgment that campuses, some with tens of thousands of students, have difficulty getting and keeping in touch with them all. At Virginia Tech, officials sent a mass e-mail to students more than two hours after the gunman killed two people in a dormitory, telling students that a shooting had occurred and "to be cautious." About 20 minutes later, the gunman began firing in classrooms, and another e-mail was sent telling students to stay indoors and away from windows. But not everyone was in front of a computer, and not everyone got the message.
Many campuses are now looking to install cellphone text-messaging systems to contact students in the event of an emergency.
Victor Nakas, associate vice president at Catholic University, said officials are looking at four key elements of the school's response to a crisis: having an effective plan, understanding the process, ensuring that communication tools can reach the entire community, and general awareness of the plan.
"You can build in redundancies until you are blue in the face, but you need the broader community to be paying attention," he said. "People have to know what it means to shelter in place, what it means to evacuate."
Catholic plans a public awareness campaign and will add a cellphone text-messaging system. Sirens are being added to security cameras, and more cameras probably will be installed, Nakas said.
The University of Memphis also is planning to implement a system that will allow officials to broadcast emergency messages through speakers on poles.
John Fry, Franklin & Marshall's president, said freshman orientation will now include a lesson on how to respond to a crisis like Virginia Tech's.
"What I'm going to do is attempt through some additional training to make short, simple, clear response guidelines to get students, faculty and administrative staff out of danger," he said. "We don't want to get them to deal with the problem, but to get out of harm's way."
Citadel spokeswoman Patricia McArver said authorities there also have begun drafting a specialized response plan to having "a shooter on campus" -- there already are plans for terrorism and hurricanes -- and an inventory of firearms on the military school's campus has been taken.
The security plans include locking the doors to the barracks, or student rooms, beginning this summer.
"This action is an acknowledgment that, regrettably, the world has changed," Major Gen. Art Baiden, chairman of the school's Board of Visitors, said in a written statement. "The tradition of unlocked doors as a part of an open community evolved during a different time. We have an obligation to give students who come here basic provisions for their safety."
State officials also are getting involved. New Jersey legislators are readying legislation to require colleges to submit security plans to state officials by the summer. Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell (R) called for a statewide meeting of colleges and universities to review security procedures.
Colleges also are enlisting the help of law enforcement officers. In Nashville, police officials met this week with security officers and administrators from more than a dozen colleges and universities and assessed each school's response plans.
Officials at The Citadel are talking with the Charleston police department to improve communication. McArver said the college plans to connect with other local schools to see "if we can learn from what they are doing."