Casting a Wide Safety Net

Apr 23rd, 2007 @ 9:56 am | Author: By Ellen-Earle Chaffee
The tragedy at Virginia Tech last week prompts us all to do some deep thinking on a wide range of topics. One of our faculty members analyzed shooting statistics nationally and concluded that a shooting death is 189 times more likely to occur off campus than on. We all must learn from this.

Clearly, universities must take all reasonable measures to provide a safe environment and to respond appropriately when safety is threatened. Does everyone agree on what "reasonable" and "appropriately" mean? No, and we may never agree. But the dialog is healthy as we learn and improve.

I was impressed that a Virginia Tech faculty member had taken the initiative to alert campus and law enforcement officials about this individual some time ago. That created an opportunity to prevent him from falling between the cracks. As it turned out, nothing effective could be done at that point. I was impressed anyway because so often we see what may be a troubled situation and assume that someone else is taking care of it or that it simply is not our business to take action.

In the end, nothing can replace the potential benefit that comes from each one of us being observant and proactive as we go about our daily lives both on campus and off. But in the beginning are policies, procedures, and people who know what to do "if."

For detailed information on policies and procedures at Valley City State University, I invite you to go to our web site and look at VCSU Safety Links under Facilities Services. The main URL is http://www.vcsu.edu/facilitiesservices/. From there, you can find information about workforce safety and risk management as well as emergency policies and procedures. There is a 20-page manual on that topic as well as a one-page emergency quick sheet for posting around campus and ready reference.

The manual covers general emergency procedures and information as well as specific information on these topics: fire, medical and first aid, power failure, hazardous material, severe weather, criminal and suspicious behavior, bomb threat, civil disturbance and demonstrations, and vehicle accidents. It identifies the emergency team for each building, the calling/contact tree, how to evacuate individuals needing assistance, and evacuation assembly points.

Reading these materials is a sobering exercise in how many things can go wrong. Being fully and completely prepared for every possible contingency may not be possible, even if it were affordable. But this is an area in which all of us can improve. Coincidentally, I received a booklet this week from a national association on the presidential role in disaster planning and response. It has some very helpful planning suggestions on which I intend to act. A key message is that everyone needs to know the plan and be able to act on it quickly, which requires education and practice.

And let us all play our part every day. The Times-Record usually contains many "information" items in the daily law enforcement log. People are calling in when they see something of concern. Good work! Thank you for helping us stay safe.