MU weighs Web-based safety plan

State officials say a new safety program would improve response time to on-campus emergencies.
Friday, May 25, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:57 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — MU could become part of a state Homeland Security pilot program that would strengthen colleges’ emergency response plans.

A Missouri Department of Homeland Security representative presented details of the Web-based program Thursday at a state Campus Security Task Force meeting. The 37-member task force, appointed by Gov. Matt Blunt, also discussed a statewide emergency response plan and brainstormed how university officials, emergency personnel and faculty could make Missouri’s college campuses more secure.

The program, which would be offered free to state colleges and universities, is similar to a security program designed for primary and secondary schools that is being implemented in Missouri.

“Adding this (task force) to higher education was kind of a second thought,” said O.J. Stone, special assistant to the Missouri Homeland Security director. “We’re looking for this group to tell us if this is a good idea.”

The program allows colleges and universities to upload their building plans and other information into a format that can be accessed by emergency responders. MU police spokesman Capt. Brian Weimer said the university’s involvement is in the preliminary stages.

“The only thing we have done is talk about it,” Weimer said.

Stone said MU officials are interested in the program and are working on how to implement it.

“The University of Missouri-Columbia is a huge organization, and there are many facets we still need to work on,” he said.

Though the program features a template for implementation, each university would be able to customize the program to fit its institution.

“Every campus is different, every community is different, heck, different parts of campus are different,” Stone said. “What you want to do is your plan.”

Many task force members were concerned about the security of the information that schools post online. But any information uploaded, such as building plans and residence hall rosters, would be available on a need-to-know basis and would not be accessible to the public, said Paul Fennewald, Missouri Homeland Security director. The data would mostly be used by campus and law enforcement officials.

One of the biggest issues that needs to be addressed before the program can be implemented statewide is student notification during emergencies.

“How do you contact the most people on your campus in the least amount of time? We’re working on that,” Fennewald said. “We have made some progress, but there is still a long way to go in that area.”

Thursday was the second time the task force met since it was created April 17, a few days after a Virginia Tech student fatally shot himself and 32 students and instructors on campus. The task force has scheduled public forums to discuss campus security June 7 in St. Louis and June 11 in Kansas City.

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