MU evaluates its security plans

Wednesday, April 18, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:42 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

While MU leaders say they are confident that the campus has adequate security measures in place, the deaths of 32 people at the hands of a gunman at Virginia Tech University on Monday has prompted a wide-ranging discussion of safety and communication procedures at the university.

Chancellor Brady Deaton spent the day discussing emergency procedures with members of the Emergency Plan Team, a group that coordinates communication among MU facilities in the case of an emergency.

“Nobody feels quite normal after the events at Virginia Tech,” Deaton said at a brief news conference at Jesse Hall on Tuesday afternoon. Deaton said that, while there may be no way to prevent such an extreme incident from occurring at MU, the university has procedures in place to respond quickly.

“We have anticipated these kinds of issues, tested our system and know our capacity,” he said.

Among the questions being raised in the wake of the shootings is why campus administrators waited two hours after the first shots were fired to send out a campus-wide alert. While campus facilities staff at MU say they are prepared to act quickly, they are also re-examining the effectiveness of their security plans.

Kristen Temple, associate director of Residential Academic Programs, said Department of Residential Life administrators are conscious of the need for a trained and ready staff. Residential Life uses e-mail and its staff to inform student residents of important information, Temple said. The department also relies on a round robin communications system to share information among its nearly two dozen residential halls.

“If something suspicious happens at one residence hall, they can e-mail other halls,” Temple said. “Once other halls have the information, they can contact their staff by phone.”

Next year, Residential Life will no longer use local land lines in dormitories to contact students, Temple said. Instead, staff will contact students on their cell phones when they need to get important information to them quickly.

“That’s the phone students use, so it makes sense that it would be the one we use,” Temple said.

Temple said administrators will “see what the options are” for other measures to improve communication.

Cathy Scroggs, vice chancellor for student affairs, said that MU has a “complete emergency plan,” including clear lines of responsibility and detailed lockdown procedures for each building on campus. However, she said more could be done to improve the campus’ emergency plan, such as conducting security drills in residence halls.

“We probably haven’t been as vigilant about doing a lockdown drill in residence halls,” Scroggs said, “but meeting and talking reminds us that this kind of thing is important and we need to get things together.”

The MU Student Recreational Complex is required to have a protocol in place to lock down the 293,000-square-foot building, said Diane Dahlmann, director of recreational services and facilities.

“We could probably secure our doors more rapidly than a residence hall can,” Dahlmann said.

Dahlmann said both the full-time and student staffs are trained in the procedures, as well as in how to communicate information among staff members using radios and cell phones.

As an MU professor, Dahlmann also noted the importance of discussing the recent events during class time.

“I believe it is the role of every faculty member to begin the dialogue (about Virginia Tech) with students,” Dahlmann said.

Nathan Stephens, director of the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center on Virginia Avenue, said Monday’s tragedy has made him more conscious of the safety of students who visit the center.

“We have a variety of exits to escape safely, so we would like to think it’s pretty safe and secure,” Stephens said. “I also feel safe being so close to the MU Police Department.”

Mark Ellis, human resources assistant for Ellis Library, said the facility has a full-time security crew, security cameras, student staff and a public address system, all of which would be used in the event of an emergency.

Even though students are bothered by the events at Virginia Tech, many say they still feel safe on the MU campus.

Freshman Allison Kent said this kind of event makes her think twice about her security, but she still feels safe.

Sophomore Daryl Scales Jr. said he felt the incident was something that could happen anywhere but was “still unlikely to happen.”

He said that looking at new ways to communicate with students beyond e-mail was an important topic to discuss among campus administrators.

“I check my e-mails after class,” Scales said, “but something like (the response to Virginia Tech) should have been bigger than just an e-mail.”

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