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UNCP reviews safety plans

By Amanda Hickey
News Editor

The tragic shootings at Virginia Tech April 16 touched UNCP and brought officials together to assure students and faculty that UNCP is prepared should it ever happen here.

Room 213 in the UC was full of concerned students and faculty April 17 seeking answers.
           
What kind of plan is in place? one student asked.  Is there a policy on active shooters? asked another.  What is being done to prevent a culture of fear? asked another.  Why not get an intercom system, how would our campus reach the students, are classroom doors able to be locked from the inside, what can we do?

“We felt that this is the type of tragedy that strikes us all,” Director of the Counseling and Testing Center Monica Osburn said.
           
Currently, UNCP uses the City Watch program to reach students.  The City Watch program allows officials to reach students through the listserv via e-mail, while making between 300 and 600 phone calls in an hour, according to the Chief of the Department of Police and Public Safety David L. Helton.
           
The Department of Police and Public Safety also recently invested in 15 pendants that would allow the person wearing it to push a button that would alert the Department of Police and Public Safety that they are in an emergency, where they are calling from, and who is calling.  The devices cost $800 apiece, according to Helton.

There may be a possibility to have pendants purchased for individual students in the future, according to Helton.

A student would only have to push a button and the police would be notified of the specific person having a problem and his or her location, he said.
           
Two hundred more emergency phones have also been purchased.
           
Helton is also looking into either an intercom system or siren system, although cost is an issue.  The siren systems run from $15,000 to $20,000.
           
“We are going to explore the options,” Helton said.
           
The main focus for UNCP’s officials is preventative measures. 

Chancellor Allen C. Meadors established a committee on the morning of April 17 to create a policy on how to deal with an active shooter on campus, according to Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Dr. Diane Jones.

Helton urges students to report suspicious behavior and people.
           
“Let us determine whether or not they’re okay,” Helton said.
           
Reporting suspicious behavior won’t hurt anyone, according to Osburn.
           
“You’re not going to make them worse by talking to them or us about it,” Osburn said.
           
There currently is not a policy about “active shooters,” however there are plans for homicidal and suicidal students.
           
“It’s how we normally operate and what policy we follow for emergencies,” Helton said.
           
There was also a meeting to establish a committee to develop policy for campus shootings.
           
Osburn also told those at the forum about “Together we mourn.”  Colleges, universities and the public are able to send “cards, letters or well-wishes,” to the Virginia Tech campus.
           
“It’ll be put together on that campus and be put together as an outpouring of support from other campuses,” Osburn said.
           
“We can pull the community together for all sorts of things and this is one of them,” Osburn continued.
           
Resident Advisors are trained to deal with emergencies on a monthly and weekly basis.  Weekly RAs receive training from the housing department while once a month the RAs meet with the Counseling and Testing Center.
           
“The RAs are well trained and it’s consistent training,” Osburn said.
           
After the shooting on the Virginia Tech campus, UNCP’s Counseling Center and the Department of Police and Public Safety planned the forum to give UNCP’s community an outlet to voice their concerns.
           
Virginia Tech’s tragedy has resulted in campuses around the country looking at their own emergency plans.
           
“Every campus in the country is going to benefit from it,” Helton said.
           
Captain Larry McNeil believes that keeping society involved is key.
           
“If you get involved and care about your neighbor, your friend, you may be surprised how the crime rate goes down,” McNeil said.  “You got to take the initiative to get involved.”

Since the tragedy, the Department of Police and Public Safety have beefed up patrols.  The department is fully staffed and are checking for any one who appears suspicious.  If you see any one who appears suspicious, contact the Department of Police and Public Safety at 521-6235.

On April 19, Chancellor Meadors sent an e-mail to students and faculty expressing his sympathies to Virginia Tech. 

“It is with sincere sadness that I extend my deepest sympathies with those affected by the tragedy that occurred on Virginia Tech's campus this week. Our thoughts are with the Virginia Tech campus family and community as they continue to grieve and begin the healing process. These tragic events call on us to comfort and support one another, and I ask that faculty and staff assist our students who may need help from the Counseling Center,” wrote Meadors.

Meadors also advised students on how to continue being safe around campus, by keeping the doors locked, making sure visitors stay with the resident who signed them in at all times, reporting suspicious behavior and weapons, and requesting an escort from campus police when worried about walking by themselves.

Students are being asked to wear maroon and orange-Virginia Tech’s colors-on Friday, April 20, to show their support for the students, faculty, staff and families affected by this tragedy.

Kelly Griffith also contributed to this article.

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Updated: Sunday, April 22, 2007
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