One day shy of the one-year anniversary of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute shootings that claimed 33 lives and just two months after another shooting at Northern Illinois University, Georgetown has made several strides to barricade itself from similar threats on campus.

In the past year, campus security has been a major concern at universities across the nation, and along with a number of other institutions, Georgetown has made an effort not to fall behind.

With some efforts that began before the Virginia Tech shooting, the university has worked to expand on-campus psychiatric services, enhance emergency response procedures and improve training and technology for Department of Public Safety officers.

Students and administrators generally agree that in the year since the Virginia Tech shooting, the school has been working steadily to improve security and preparedness – an effort that requires close communication between university departments and the broader campus community.

Providing a Support Line

Nationally, many university security improvements have focused on enhancing campus mental health facilities. Only last week, Gov. Timothy Kaine (D-Va.) signed dozens of bills aiming to streamline procedures and improve communication between mental health professionals who treat college students.

Phil Meilman, director of Georgetown’s Counseling and Psychiatric Service, said that various steps have been taken to address the concerns of students who present a danger to themselves or others.

“Changes undertaken since the Virginia Tech tragedy consist of increased training for staff and increased vigilance and referrals on the part of faculty members, deans and concerned students,” he said. “Sometimes worries voiced by professors, deans and concerned students have been directed to deans, sometimes to the Department of Public Safety, sometimes to the vice president for university safety, and sometimes to us at [CAPS].”

eilman said that while CAPS is prohibited from sharing privileged information with other university offices, there has nevertheless been increased coordination between offices to ensure campus safety.

“All of the offices . form part of the safety net designed to catch students in trouble and provide them with assistance before things deteriorate,” he said. “It is important to note that everyone on campus, students included, can help serve as eyes and ears for the community, getting students in distress to sources of help before it is too late.”

Thus far, Meilman said, the reforms at CAPS have had a positive impact on campus operations.

“[Increased collaboration has] defused several potentially difficult situations without incident and with compassion and concern for students,” he said.

oreover, the number of students who make use of the services provided by CAPS has increased over the past year, Meilman said. He estimated that this year, approximately 10 to 12 percent of the student body will visit CAPS to make use of its clinical services.

eilman did mention, however, that there is a limit to CAPS’ services: Staff members are not trained in forensics or the mental health evaluation and treatment of criminals. In certain situations, Meilman said, Georgetown would retain an outside forensic psychologist if necessary.

Getting the Word Out

Before the shooting at Virginia Tech, Georgetown had been planning to implement a system to communicate with students via text messaging and cell phones. Last fall, the university launched an emergency notification system using text messages, cell phones and personal e-mail; however, less than a third of the university community has enrolled in the system.

According to Julie Bataille, university spokesperson and member of the university’s emergency response team, 7,435 students, faculty and staff have signed up for the program. Approximately 36 percent of the student population and 31 percent of the total university population have currently signed up through Student Access+.

Tyler Spalding (SFS ’08), a member of the Student Safety Advisory Board, said there has been a steady increase in the number of people signing up for the program.

“As long as we continue to push it, I think we’ll continue to see those numbers increase,” he said.

“We were pleased with 36 percent when we learned that other schools did not have as high of a participation rate, but we need more people for it to be truly effective,” Max O’Neill (COL ’08), a member of the SSAB, said.

Bataille said that, in general, the university is satisfied with the program’s progress this year.

“We are eager to have as many members of the campus community participate as possible and pleased that in its first year already so many have done so,” she said. “We have conducted tests on the system to ensure that it works properly and to notify community members about what to expect.”

In addition, implementation of university notification systems has entered the national picture. Kaine included a comprehensive emergency notification system for universities by the beginning of next year in his legislative package passed last week. And Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) also introduced the Virginia Tech Victims Act last week, which would require colleges to warn their campuses of emergencies within 30 minutes. It took two hours after the discovery of the first shootings before students at Virginia Tech were notified of the emergency situation.

Georgetown has also installed additional campus steam whistles, which Bataille said are designed to alert people to remain inside instead of evacuating. She said this system will increase the radius of notification in the event of emergencies and is tested every month.

Additionally, the university has attempted to improve emergency responsiveness through collaboration with The George Washington University.

“Member of both schools’ emergency response teams meet together and talk through issues relevant in an emergency – such as how we could help one another house students, provide meals or transportation or a range of other needs that may arise,” Bataille said.

Day By Day

In terms of everyday crime prevention, the university has moved forward with plans that were in place before the Virginia Tech shootings to equip DPS officers with additional tools to fight everyday crime.

DPS is in the process of training officers in the use of self-defense sprays, electroless batons and protective vests.

Only officers who are certified and who have completed 24 hours of academy training will be issued the equipment, according to a university press release.

Part of the training for the use of the non-vaporizing pepper spray includes firsthand experience – officers must directly experience its effects by being sprayed in the face with it.

In addition, the number of lighting and surveillance cameras has been increased across campus to deter crime. Roughly 200 cameras are currently spread throughout the Hilltop, and have now been connected to a new communications center coordinated by DPS. This system has been updated over the past year, including the addition of 12 flat-screen televisions to observe specific locations around campus. Two dispatchers monitor the screens in addition to various radio channels and computerized fire alert systems, according to a university press release. Spalding also emphasized the importance of the expanded shuttle services, including a Burleith and West Georgetown loop and added that “this year, we came up with a more coordinated plan,” including the addition of a call desk where students get information about shuttle times.

Looking back, Spalding believes that there has been marked improvement in the university’s emergency preparedness.

“I think in general, the safety on campus and level of preparedness on campus is in a much better position than it was before, especially looking back on where we were a year ago after Virginia Tech,” he said.

DPS Director Darryl Harrison and DPS Associate Director Doris Bey did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Vice President of University Safety Rocco DelMonaco was unavailable for comment.

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