An Aug. 28, 2007, Letter from President Dobbins to the Campus Community
A report last week by the state Campus Security Task Force appointed by Gov. Matt Blunt after the tragic shootings at Virginia Tech focused on emergency preparedness at schools throughout Missouri. Therefore, as we begin a new academic year, I want to bring our faculty, staff and students up to date on our continuing efforts to make Southeast Missouri State University as safe as possible for everyone in our community. It is especially important to the more than 2,300 new students and new employees to explain the University's emergency plans and security provisions, and to provide an update to our continuing students, faculty, and staff.
The administration has developed and has been practicing our emergency preparedness plan since the 1990s. We have a basic contingency manual outlining an administrative structure and guidelines to cope with most campus emergencies, including events such as the one at Virginia Tech, fires, natural disasters such as severe weather and earthquakes, and medical emergencies such as an outbreak of infectious disease.
The campus has held building evacuation drills and has established an emergency operations center (EOC) with all necessary equipment, including satellite telephones in the event land lines and cell phones are not working. For over four years, the EOC has gone through "tabletop exercises" using a variety of mock scenarios testing our processes. We review our plan and regularly hold debriefing sessions to improve our readiness to handle events that could happen. Our plan has been implemented in several real crises, including a major campus power outage and a phone service outage last school year. While these events pale in comparison with the tragedy at Virginia Tech, our responses provide confidence that University employees know what to do in the event of a real emergency, and that the campus can obtain necessary support from local, state and federal public safety agencies when needed.
Although the University has in place the majority of systems recommended by the state task force, we continue to explore additional, high-technology systems. For example, our Information Technology department this summer developed a procedure to update students, faculty, and staff electronic mailing lists on a daily basis and has refined our "student locator" program that permits identifying where students are on the campus at any given time of day. We are also looking at new technologies and products for campus-wide communication by both land line and cell phones -- a subject many college campuses nationwide are pursuing.
Until such a system is in place, the University can communicate information to students, faculty, and staff via our outdoor warning system and by e-mail, Audix, the University Web site, the portal, and a network of building coordinators and community advisors in the residence halls. Each campus building has emergency routes and a designated building coordinator responsible for implementing emergency evacuation plans, with which everyone should become familiar.
As you know, our outside warning sirens are used to warn of severe weather and can provide spoken alerts and information about safety issues on campus. We are also exploring the feasibility of enhancing the University's outdoor warning system by extending its capabilities indoors in buildings across the campus. We have explored costs associated with providing that capability in our residence halls, followed by academic buildings, and then administrative/service buildings.
The University has made a special effort to make certain that our campus police are highly trained and capable of responding appropriately to campus emergencies. The state task force recommends that college campuses have certified police officers, as we have had at Southeast for some 30 years, and that they receive active shooter training. All of our officers have participated in such training.
In our residence halls, we have implemented several new security measures this semester to ensure that students living on campus have a secure environment. Beginning this week, all exterior entrance doors to Southeast's residence halls will be locked, and students will need to use their room keys to enter their buildings. The main public entrance to the Towers Complex will remain open for commuter students who dine in Towers Cafeteria and other students who use the Towers Complex computer lab, but the exterior entrance doors to each of the individual Towers will be locked.
Residence Life is also implementing door prop alarms for the main exterior entrance doors to each of the residence halls this fall. Under the new system, an alarm will sound if any main residence hall entrance door is propped open for longer than 15 seconds. The new door prop alarm system is already in place at the entrance to Towers East, and installation is continuing in other residence halls, with completion scheduled before the start of the spring semester in most halls.
New University Public Safety sub-stations have been added at the main Towers Complex and at the River Campus, and University Public Safety officers will use those locations throughout their scheduled shift assignments to conduct work-related activities and to have a higher visibility in those locations. The sub-station at the River Campus is staffed seven days a week.
Surveillance cameras also are being installed in elevators in the Towers complex. Installation of the cameras is expected to be complete early in the fall semester. Cameras are also in place and monitored by DPS at the exterior entrance doors to all of Southeast's residence halls and external parking lots. In addition to these measures, residence halls will continue to have resident assistants (RAs) on every floor on duty from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. daily with RAs also making regular rounds throughout the day.
While the University has put in place an excellent system for handling emergencies, providing security, and communicating to our faculty, staff, and students, our public safety officers need help from those who live and work on our campus. All of us must be alert to suspicious or unusual activity and must be willing to report such activity by dialing 911, by calling DPS dispatchers at 651-2215, or by pushing the call box button on one of the 29 emergency call boxes placed in strategic locations around campus, which will immediately connect to the University Police Communications Center.
All of us are responsible for helping to keep Southeast a safe campus. Thank you for doing your part.