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States Launch Blanket Reviews of Campus Sec Policies

Few higher education institutions ended their April calendars without launching a task force or study group to examine how to improve campus security in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings. Here's a sampling of these initiatives, most of which consider enhancing campus notification systems and networks.

The University of Washington Tacoma said it will have a text-messaging emergency alert program in place by the fall, according to a spokesman.

Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, have created a system where students, faculty and staff can register their cell phone numbers with the university to be able to receive text messages during emergency situations.

Princeton purchased the Connect-Ed service in early April--prior to the Virginia Tech shootings--which can be used to send text messages to the entire community or target messages to specific buildings or departments.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist created a task force to explore campus security in the wake of the slayings. University officials want $3.5 million from the legislature for enhanced security measures on college campuses.

Illinois Gov. Rob Blagojevich has formed a task force made up of university leaders. It supports giving $330,000 to University of Illinois campus officers to buy portable radios. The University of Illinois police chief said the university will be on the same radio system as all emergency responders in the area by this summer. They are now working out who will provide the alerts campus wide and whether they will go out through calls, e-mail, or pagers.

Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle is creating a task force to examine security at the state's colleges in the wake of the shootings. Doyle said he wants the group to first take a quick, thorough look at campus emergency response plans, coordination with local law enforcement and how campuses deal with potentially dangerous students. Ultimately Doyle said the task force will look at better use of technology, such as using cell phones and text messages to get the word out.

Boston University formed a committee to review its safety policies and procedures, including ways to better reach the community in case of an emergency. "One of the things we put on the table was a blast communication system, which we do not have," BU president Robert Brown said. "People think that you can send 20,000 emails instantly. The fact is: It takes about 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the technology you're using and how you do it." In a town hall meeting last week, BU police chief Thomas Robbins said he is considering the use of e-mail and text messaging to contact the community in an emergency. It is currently impossible to reach every community member at once because the BU registry does not require telephone numbers and e-mail addresses, according to a report in the Boston Daily Free Press. The committee is considering changing this policy.

California university administrators told state lawmakers they would be able to improve campus security if federal and state privacy statutes were changed to allow schools to have access to more information about students. Because of federal privacy protections, universities have trouble getting information about students who have been involuntarily committed for mental health treatment, California State chancellor Charles Reed said. Reed said universities sometimes also have trouble getting students to give them their e-mail and cellular phone information so they can be contacted in an emergency.

About the Author

Paul McCloskey is contributing editor of Syllabus.

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