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Campuses Emphasize Safety Planning

A majority of colleges and universities have implemented emergency preparedness plans for their campuses, according to a new survey by the Campus Safety and Security Project. Of the 342 institutions surveyed, 85 percent reported having a plan that, at a minimum, meets the standards set by the National Fire Protection Association. Of the types of hazards covered in the plans, 98 percent met the standard of preparation for acts of violence; 97 percent met the standard for a natural disaster; and 76 percent were adequately prepared for a pandemic. Slightly more than half also cover cyber disruptions.

Three-quarters of those institutions include mechanisms for communicating during an emergency by electronic means such as e-mail, Web pages, and text messaging. Yet seven in 10 of those that use text messaging require participants to opt into the system, and only about 20 percent said that all or most of the campus community (at least 75 percent) had signed up for the notification service.

The project is an initiative by the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) and a consortium of professional organizations focused on campus safety and security. The project was funded in part by the Lilly Endowment.

About 77 percent of institutions develop their plans by committee that includes members from student affairs, the business side, public safety, and the provost's office. The largest institutions--those with at least 15,000 students--tend to hire an emergency manager with responsibility for emergency planning and preparation. That's far less common for smaller schools.

Most respondents said they distribute information about their emergency plans to the campus communities by paper, such as posting on campus buildings and in publications. Half post the information to the campus Web site. A third include the information on the campus intranet. Six in 10 say they reference the plan in student and faculty/staff orientations.

Because the results represent only about 16 percent of its member institutions, the researchers said the survey results should be considered "more exploratory than definitive." On the positive side, the report concludes, "emergency preparedness plans and strategies tend to recognize the need to balance campus safety and security concerns within an environment of openness and freedom of expression that is an essential characteristic of the higher education community." However, the survey also points to several areas "that need further exploration and attention," such as a bigger commitment by smaller institutions to have emergency managers with dedicated campus safety responsibility and a requirement at colleges and universities for faculty, staff, and students to join a text messaging emergency network.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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