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Safe and Sound: New Safety Measures In Place for Campus Emergencies

Scott Graham, associate director of public safety, talks with officers on patrol. Officers monitor the Smith campus round-the-clock on foot, on specially equipped mountain bikes and in cruisers. Photo by Jim Gipe.

As Paul Ominsky, Smith director of public safety, sees it, the lessons learned after the tragic shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007 caused a sea change in the handling of emergencies on college campuses everywhere. "We learned that, unfortunately, the incomprehensible can happen and crises will occur. It's become very clear that delivering information quickly can keep people safe in serious campus emergencies."

On April 9 and July 22, Smith College Office of Public Safety ran tests of its new emergency mass notification system to measure the college's ability to quickly contact all students, faculty and staff by text message, cell phone or e–mail. During the most recent test, the college sent an automated emergency test message to 1,129 cell phones or mobile devices, leaving 754 voice messages and sending 922 text messages to those who had registered their emergency contact information with the college. A mass e–mail also went out to 4,014 Smith addresses.

During an actual campus emergency, Ominsky says, messages would provide immediate information and directions to help the Smith community make urgent decisions critical to personal safety.

According to Ominsky, the tests were successful, but he would like to see more members of the Smith community register their cell phone numbers for contact information. Because it's a voluntary system, participation is a priority. "Our best practice of safety right now is the multi–layered notification system we have now set up."

Tests of the system will be conducted at least once a semester.

The new notification system is not the only change to campus security measures this year. Some 36 new blue–light emergency phones and improved lighting have been added to the campus landscape, and an upgraded radio system now gives the Public Safety department direct communication with the Northampton police and fire departments as well as ambulance service. Information cards with instructions about what to do in various emergency situations are now posted in all student rooms, and an emergency procedures guide has been distributed campuswide. Comprehensive information is also posted on the Public Safety Web page, www.smith.edu/pubsafety/crisis.php.

Meanwhile, last year Public Safety initiated a series of campus community forums to discuss whether public safety officers should carry firearms on campus. Currently, officers carry pepper spray and batons. The discussion will continue this year. —JME

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