Task force reviews safety plan

Colleges statewide look to share ideas and information.
Friday, May 4, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:46 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — At its first meeting, the governor’s Campus Safety Task Force focused on ways to improve safety procedures at a variety of Missouri campuses on Thursday. The group had a lengthy discussion about what changes were possible and which programs already in place could be used by other colleges and universities.

“There’s no easy answer. What this task force is going to struggle with is, how do we better prepare ourselves, and what are the appropriate actions that one can take?” said Higher Education Commissioner Robert Stein, who is co-chairman of the task force.

Task force members suggested many topics that could be covered in a report the governor has asked be submitted to him by Aug. 15. The discussion included topics such as how to alert students and staff of crises, how to handle information restricted by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and whether it is possible to create a standardized program for all higher education institutions across the state.

Stein said the group plans to have the report done by Aug. 1.

“The biggest concern is, we are not one-size-fits-all,” Stein said, noting differing campus sizes and different types of emergencies.

MU Police Chief Jack Watring, a member of the task force, said that although MU already has an emergency plan in place, discussing the issue with other universities could generate new ideas.

“We have a pretty good university emergency plan,” Watring said. “It could be better, but it covers a lot of things. It’s generic, and could fit anything.”

MU spokesman Christian Basi said the university could learn from smaller schools with different perspectives, and the university can also pass along the plan it has in place.

The group was created following the shooting deaths at Virginia Tech, though the governor said in a press conference last month that the idea for the committee had been floating around for some time.

“Unfortunately, many times it takes a tragedy to get things into place,” said Mark James, co-chairman of the group and director of the Public Safety Department.

James said he wants the task force to focus on improving safety in many kinds of situations, not just in the event of a shooting.

He said the task force should also look into weather emergencies, such as tornadoes, and other situations that could arise, focusing on how to effectively coordinate communication between campus police and state agencies, and how best for universities to communicate with students.

Stein said the group comprises 27 members from across Missouri. They were intentionally selected to provide broad geographic representation of the state.

Governor’s office spokeswoman Jessica Robinson said the governor’s office made an effort to draw the task force members from all aspects of college life in Missouri, including both urban and rural schools, two-year and four-year schools and both public and private universities.

The task force includes campus police, representatives from the Missouri State Highway Patrol, administrators from several state colleges, the state Homeland Security Department director, one graduate student from the University of Central Missouri, one professor and directors from several state agencies.

Stein said the lack of an undergraduate student voice was unintentional and that the opinions of student interns from both his office and James’ office will be utilized.

“Instead of asking students to commit to an entire summer, the committee will get student input from other places,” such as a public forum and surveys, Robinson said.

The task force’s next meeting will be May 24, when it will have a chance to discuss safety with police who responded to the Virginia Tech shootings.

The subsequent two meetings will be public forums, one in St. Louis on June 7 and the other in Kansas City on June 11.

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