CWR Security Focus – September 2009
By John Enright
John Enright, Former U.S. Secret Service Agent
Since mid-August, college students have been returning to campus in droves across the country, eager to start classes and begin the new school year. Returning students have much on their mind as they start the new semester after their summer breaks while new incoming freshmen are wading through an entirely new experience and are struggling to adjust to their new environment.
Concern with class schedules, dormitory assignments, roommates, campus activities and off-campus social events dominate the attention of all students as one would expect. However, it is very important that students, especially those new to campus, spend a small amount of time learning how to remain safe while at college and begin to develop some good habits to avoid the pitfalls students have fallen into in past years that have resulted in serious consequences. Below is our back to school list of security recommendations to give students a guide of sorts to keep safe and be prepared for the unexpected while living away from home.
Public Safety Departments
As students arrive on campus both the student and their parents should quickly address their personal safety while on campus by becoming familiar with the college’s Public Safety department and the resources offered on campus. Most college websites will have a link dedicated to the Public Safety department and the policies and procedures the department will publish to assist students in accessing security services; describe emergency response procedures; list emergency telephone numbers; describe hospital- health care options and locations; and address campus safety protocols particular to the specific college you are attending.. Students should quickly become familiar with Campus Safety procedures and the assets in place on campus that will assist them in remaining safe while enjoying college life.
Dormitory – Apartment Emergency Procedures and Security Protocols
Becoming familiar with your new living arrangements is paramount in preparing students to deal with emergencies that may arise. Students should immediately become familiar with fire evacuation procedures and the location of fire extinguishers on their dorm floors. The first time you need to access evacuation routes or access a fire extinguisher in an emergency should not be the first time you go through that experience. Search out your fire evacuation options and walk the route on your way to class early in the semester so that you are familiar with it and the location where it will bring you out to. Shortly after moving in, find the locations where the fire suppression equipment (extinguishers) is and become familiar with the instructions to operate the equipment.
Students should also be aware of the policies allowing access to their residences and strictly adhere to access control procedures set in place by the college. Access should only be allowed to students known to dorm residents and outside doors controlled by technology should not be propped open and left unattended for convenience sake. Never allow a stranger to enter your residence hall unless they are escorted or allowed entry by someone who knows them. No matter how comfortable you become in your residence hall, always lock your room door and leave nothing to chance. Your dorm mates may not be as security savvy as you are so while you are away from your room, always lock the door.
Safety Tips On and Off Campus
College Campuses are small communities within larger communities and students will always be exposed to some degree of criminal activity. Students tend to feel immune to issues that plague society and will often let down their guard when traveling on and off campus late at night or at times when there are few other people around. Assaults do happen on college campuses and often times go unreported, skewing the crime reporting statistics of campus police departments. Further, assaults that occur just outside or in the vicinity of campus do not get reported in campus statistics. Students need to take precautions to protect themselves when in vulnerable situations.
Walking campus late at night is one of those times and students should only walk on well lit paths that are populated by campus emergency telephones, often referred to on many campuses as the “blue phones”. While walking back to a dorm late at night, never take a short cut in between buildings or other areas. If you are on a well lit path, an attacker is less likely to approach you for fear of getting caught. Always have your cell phone programmed to 911 for quick access to emergency responders. As you approach your dorm, if possible, call your roommate or a friend inside and let them know you are coming. This tactic is of paramount importance if you notice any strangers loitering around your dorm entrance. The same tactics should be employed if out late at night outside of campus, possibly going home to off-campus housing. Stay visible and travel on well lit streets.
Finally, I always get asked questions about Mace. Mace is not a good idea. In an emergency there is a good chance you will fumble with it and if not used properly, it can be turned on you as a weapon. What I do recommend is investing a small amount of money ($8-$30) in a small personal alarm that can be carried on a key chain or on an ID lanyard (Google “personal alarm”). These alarms can emit a sound of up to 120 decibels and will work more effectively in warding off trouble. I recommend the device be carried in your hand when you are walking outside late at night or if in a strange area. If you believe trouble is approaching or that you are being followed, do not hesitate to activate the alarm. The loud sound alone will in most cases, deter attackers from approaching you (and the sound) and most probably, they will leave the area.
Students should closely guard their credit cards, passwords, computer ID entry codes and identifying information i.e. dates of birth and social security numbers. College dorms and residences are gathering points for parties and bring strangers into your dorm areas regularly. As with any other valuables, wallets, credit cards and other important documents should be stored in a personal lock box and placed out of view so that nothing of value is in plain site. This will prevent a quick entry / exit into your room by a thief who will look to steal whatever valuables are left out in the open.
Students should also never allow other students, even best friends to use their credit cards and pin numbers. Friendships in college sometimes end as quickly as they start often times turning students against each other. Also, someone with the knowledge of your credit information may decide to pull what they think is an innocent prank using your card information to order merchandise you don’t want and then having it delivered to your home. Consider your identity information a well kept secret that is nobody’s business but your own.
Alcohol, Drug Abuse – Date Rape
These all go hand in hand with the college experience. Date rape is even more common than students and parents may imagine, since most of these events go unreported on college campuses. Alcohol and drug abuse is also common among college students and many potentially dangerous events go unreported. Students have been seriously injured or placed in critical condition due to the lack of an appropriate response by their peers who are fail to call police or EMT’s for the fear of getting themselves in trouble. Similarly with date rape, students have placed themselves in vulnerable situations while drinking or using drugs and their companions have failed to protect them from becoming a victim. Finally, the large majority victims of date rape do not report the incident, which skews the statistical reporting of these incidents on campus causing less attention to be paid to this subject. Students should be aware of the following when attending parties, social events and in all situations where drugs and alcohol are available:
- Never attend a college party alone where you do not know the other students.
- Never leave a party or event with a new acquaintance.
- Do not visit the dorm or apartment of a first date or recent acquaintance.
- Only drink from drinks that you have had total control and possession.
- If a friend is extremely ill after inducing alcohol or drugs, immediately call first responders.
- Do not leave a friend passed out in a strange dorm, apartment, or residence.
- Do not assume that a friend is just “passed out” and just ill from drinking too much.
- Never leave a friend to get back to campus on their own because they have met a new acquaintance.
- If you do leave your friends to stay with a new acquaintance, make sure someone knows where you are going and if you will be staying.
- Make a pact among your friends to watch out for each other when at parties and follow these tips to ensure that everyone remains safe.
Over the past ten years we have had regular incidents of violence on campus, culminating with the shootings at Virginia Tech. These incidents although seemingly low in probability, continue to occur regularly and we cannot just think that they will not happen to us. In most of the incidents reported on over the years, it was evident that the attackers were known to their peers and teachers prior to the attacks as being troubled or for making statements that could be considered threatening and of a violent nature. Often time’s students have reported after the attacks that they were intimidated by the attacker and felt threatened. Even still, the attacker and his behavior went unreported and the attacks occurred.
The advice here is simple. If you are troubled by the behavior of a student, you should always report the behavior to someone in authority on campus. Unfortunately, many campuses do not have a procedure for this kind of report and it is unclear who would be the most appropriate department to report it to. I always suggest that if there is a clear threat of violence, the information should be reported to Campus Public Safety. However, if the behavior is troubling but not directly threatening, the information can be reported to the Campus Health Clinic or the Office of Dean of Students. More often than not, this type of behavior is recurring and could be evidence of a student moving on a path to commit a violent attack.
This is also a time when you may want to include your parents in your observations and have them also contact the school with your concerns. What we have found in other incidents is that reports have been made and they have either not been acted upon or the institution was unsure how to manage the report.
About John Enright: John J. Enright is a retired United States Secret Service Agent in charge and now the President of Enright & Associates, Inc., a global security management and investigations firm.