Tuesday, May 30, 2017


As a baseline for good campus safety, parents should also familiarize themselves with the rules and practices of colleges and universities that have campus safety policies and procedures. The following are two such schools, one state, and the other private.

Several years ago, before I began working on this book, I spent some time discussing campus security with the Chief of University Police, State University of New York—Oneonta (SUNY—Oneonta). He is truly an impressive man in charge of an impressive security operation on a large college campus. If every school in this country had a security plan like the one at Oneonta, our school grounds would be far, far safer places.

The campus security at SUNY-Oneonta is a police department; therefore its officers carry weapons. The Regional Police Academy is tied to, and works with, the campus police department. The academy runs a wide variety of specialized law enforcement courses, trains new officers, and trains officers to be instructors.

The chief told me that the SUNY-Oneonta campus has had an emergency plan in place since 1994, but since the tragedy at Virginia Tech, the school has tightened and improved that plan. The chief began by telling me that it is against the law to bring a weapon of any kind on a school campus in the state of New York. That law covers both state and private schools. Every state university in New York is required to have an emergency plan in place, and the Oneonta and Binghamton campuses were the first to meet the state’s new standard for security. Highlights of the SUNY—Oneonta plan include:

1.     The ability to lock down every building on campus (with the exception of the gym) with four strokes on the computer keyboard.
2.     Radio systems in all buildings for emergency use.
3.     Blueprints of all campus buildings are on hand in the police headquarters in case of an emergency.
4.     A Behavioral Assessment Team that meets every week to discuss student problems and activities. The group is made up of the Chief, the Director of Counseling, the Director of Residence Life, the Associate Vice President for Judicial Affairs, the Vice President of Student Development, and the Health Center Director.
5.     The Chief of Police has the power to act immediately and to take whatever action he deems necessary if an individual is thought to be a danger to self or others.
6.     A campus-wide siren for notification that there is an emergency on campus.
7.     The ability to notify all students, staff, and faculty of an emergency through NY ALERT—a cell phone/email/text messaging system. All New York State University campuses will have this system in the near future.
8.     A video and card access system for all campus buildings.
9.     A sophisticated key system for all buildings. The keys cannot be duplicated.
10.  The school gives its officers extensive training through a variety of courses including Active Shooter Course and Patrol Officers Course.
11.  A full-time Emergency Management Coordinator.
12.  The school is linked to major criminal databases in Albany.
13.  The school regularly reviews its crime prevention security analysis for all campus buildings.
14.  The University Police Department has an ambulance on hand, on campus.
15.  It is a state law that university police departments on state-affiliated schools must have a Memorandum of Understanding with the state police on immediate emergency response responsibilities and actions. SUNY-Oneonta has such a memorandum and maintains close ties with the New York State Police and the city of Oneonta Police Department.
16.    Students are given a full security briefing as part of their campus orientation.
17.   Each staff and faculty member has at her or his desk a bright orange Crisis Management folder for immediate and easy reference. The folder contains phone numbers and contacts. The subjects covered are: 
a.     Emergency Responses—Shelter in Place, Notification, and Building Evacuation.
b.     To Report an Emergency on Campus—Bomb Threat, Fire, Accident or Medical Emergency.
c.     Threat of Physical Harm from a Person or Persons—Threat by Email, Text Message, Phone, or Note—Threatening or Aggressive Behavior, and Policies and Procedures.
d.     Student Emergencies—Disturbed or Disturbing Emotional Behavior, Serious Illness or Injury, Threatening or Irrational Behavior, Crime in Progress or has been Committed, and Sexual Assault.
e.     Non-Emergency Student Problems—Disturbed or Disturbing Emotional Behavior, Illness or Injury, and Learning, Psychological, or Physical Disability.

In other words, if I wanted to know how SUNY-Oneonta would have dealt with a student like Cho, all I had to do was pick up one of these orange folders and run my fingers down the list. It raises the question, if such consistency in approach had existed at Virginia Tech could Cho’s behavior have been headed off while it was still a non-emergency student problem? There’s no way to know, but it is certain a consistently understood and applied policy towards troubling student behaviors makes it easier to prevent escalation of such problems to actual emergencies.

SUNY—Oneonta is not the only bright light. Smaller schools with smaller budgets are also working hard to improve campus safety. After visiting SUNY—Oneonta, I phoned Hartwick College, also in Oneonta, and asked to meet with the head of campus safety. (To be continued)

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