Campus security report shows progress, says more to be done

A report on campus security by the University of California following the Virginia Tech massacre last year outlines the gains the system has made on measures to protect students, staff, and faculty--but acknowledges that the effort is a work in progress.

"The university can take pride in the many positive and proactive actions that it has already taken over the last few years to ensure the safety and security of the entire campus community," states the report, released March 12. "However, despite this proactive record of recent accomplishments ... it became clear to the Task Force during the course of its review that much can be done."

The 85-page report, prepared by a Campus Security Task Force commissioned last year by UC President Robert Dynes, examined UC's preparedness in security, emergency notification, student mental health services, and general emergency preparedness.

The Campus Security Task Force, made up of university security, student affairs, and emergency preparedness experts, will present the report during the Regents meetings in San Francisco this week.

Virtually all other colleges and universities around the country have been undertaking similar exercises since the tragedy at Virginia Tech, said Tom Vani, UCSC vice chancellor for Business and Administrative Services and a member of the UC-wide task force. The Virginia Tech incident, in which a gunman last April killed 32 people and himself, became the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

"The report concludes that, at this point in time, the university is adequately prepared to address a situation similar to that faced at Virginia Tech," Vani said. "But it also says that there are areas in which we need even more improvement--and it directs each campus to provide an assessment and plan to do this."

Since Virginia Tech, the nation has seen several more shootings. One of the most significant violent incidents happened in February at Northern Illinois University, where a man killed five students and himself in a shooting spree.

Though the report states UC has been preparing and training to respond to an "active shooter" incident since well before Virginia Tech, it includes a number of recommendations for continued progress in each area of study. It also says the 3 percent increase in UC's registration fee for 2007-08 will be dedicated specifically to enhancing mental health services, providing approximately $4 million.

Addressing mental health challenges

UC Santa Cruz received its share of the increased mental health funding this fall, reports Felicia McGinty, UCSC vice chancellor for Student Affairs.

"Increasingly, students are coming to us with greater mental health support needs, so it's important that we be able to identify students with those needs and provide services to them or make the appropriate referrals," McGinty said.

Possible reasons for that increased need include higher stress levels among young adults who enroll in college today, said campus officials. Also, they said, advances in the medical treatment of mental illness have made it possible for those who in the past wouldn't have been able to attend college or live independently to do so now.

"As the Virginia Tech and even more recent Northern Illinois University tragedies remind us, campus security and mental health remain pressing issues for university campuses," said President Dynes. "Ensuring the safety and well-being of our students is one of the University of California's highest priorities, and we must constantly strive to improve our efforts in these critical areas. The task force has given us an important road map to do that."

Steps UCSC has taken

Approximately 19,000 people are on the UCSC campus on any given day during the school year, estimated Chris Gaylord, UCSC's new emergency planner and fire captain. The nighttime population is about 7,000.

With this population in mind, UC Santa Cruz has moved forward to implement a number of security, mental health, and emergency response measures, including:

  • Initiating recruitment of a case manager and additional mental health professionals in an effort to improve the ratio of therapists to students.

  • Decreasing the wait time for counseling appointments and extending full mental health services throughout the summer.

  • Improving crisis communication through the planning and implementation of a system capable of distributing mass emails, phone messages, and text messages to cell phones. (ITS and campus emergency personnel have selected the W.A.R.N. system for this purpose and are now in negotiations with the vendor regarding the scope of the contract, aiming to have the contract finalized before the one-year anniversary of Virginia Tech. The service will be phased in beginning a few months after finalizing the contract.)

  • Conducting training for key officials who would gather at the campus's emergency response center, a place dedicated for sharing information, communicating with the campus and broader community, and managing an unfolding crisis.

  • Expanding police personnel available for an emergency. (The department has hired an additional captain and will be hiring two sergeants and three more officers. The force, now numbering 21, will be brought to 26.)

  • Funding and filling an emergency planner position.

  • Developing a campus safety and security web site in order to provide one visible place for emergency resources and news.

  • Designing a poster describing what to do in an emergency or crisis and distributing to members of the campus community.

  • Planning additional outreach to alert students, staff, and faculty of the resources available to them and the need to be prepared.

Systemwide initiatives include:

  • UC campus police engaging in active shooter scenario training.

  • Establishing direct radio communications with local public safety agencies.

  • Expanded emergency mass notification systems at all campuses.

UC campuses have also developed workplace violence training and education for faculty, staff, and students. In addition, many UC campuses have implemented a number of physical security measures and safeguards, including panic or alarm systems, and emergency call boxes.

"Universities around the nation have always done this kind of planning and preparedness work, but the recent tragic events have underscored the critical need for preparedness and vigilance," said Jean Marie Scott, associate vice chancellor for the Colleges and University Housing Services at UCSC.

Colleges and universities have "certainly seen an increase in shootings and violent crime," Scott said. "So now it's even more important to be prepared and have a variety of protocols to deal with these types of situations."

View the Regents agenda here (the security report will be presented Thursday by the Committee on Educational Policy).

View the full Campus Security Task Force report here.

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