Public Safety in the 21st Century
Communication and security are high priorities.
By Gigi Marino
Fifteen years ago, most people did not experience the feelings of threat and fear of violence in the United States that they do today. Fifteen years ago, most people could not have imagined the Oklahoma City bombing, Columbine, September 11. Fifteen short years ago, by and large, Americans felt safer on their home soil, going to school, shopping at the mall, filling up on gas. At about the same time, says Jason Friedberg, chief of Bucknell’s Department of Public Safety, the “Barney Fife” image of campus security began changing. “People started to realize that the night watchman was no longer the one answering emergency calls,” says Friedberg.
Domestic terrorism, mass murders, and the possibility of pandemic viral outbreaks have affected law enforcement on all levels, including departments at institutions of higher education. Not only do colleges and universities now operate public safety offices that emulate the level of protection offered by local police forces, but many, like Bucknell, also conduct programs focused on campus life and student services. Friedberg says, “The likelihood is that none of these threats will ever rear their head, but it’s our job to put into place the measures necessary for keeping them at bay or, at least, minimizing their damage potential if they do arise.”
Says David Surgala, vice president for finance and administration, whose office oversees public safety, “We’ve worked diligently the last few years to ensure that our emergency planning and crisis management protocols can address any incident in a timely manner.”
Friedberg has been at Bucknell for nearly two years, during which time he’s written a three-year strategic plan for public safety that addresses the development of a command staff with succession planning; created a recognizable identity for the office, including new uniforms and insignias; and reassigned officers into roles with increased responsibility, with an emphasis on community awareness and emergency preparedness.
Last year, the University launched its Got Skills/Want Skills program to identify students, faculty, and staff who have emergency skills, such as first aid, CPR, and EMT training, and to train those who want to learn them. More than 450 students, faculty, and staff have signed up and have agreed to be called upon in an emergency as a supplement, should they be needed, to the University’s emergency response team.
Student safety and campus security are paramount. Already in the works is a facilities access control project that prevents access to anyone not authorized and will allow the University to lock down buildings in an emergency. The first phase of the project targets residence halls; special-interest housing, including fraternities; and critical infrastructure — 48 buildings in total, with about 300 doors. Phase one will be completed Aug. 1. The second and third phases will focus on buildings that house administrative areas and expensive computers.
Also in place is a campus notification system that uses every media possible. In an emergency, those with cell phones will receive text messages (and the opportunity to call 911 for immediate help). Those at computers will receive an immediate screen display. Those walking on campus will hear an alarm and announcement broadcast over a public address system. With email, voice mail, text messaging, and the PA system, the University has nearly a dozen ways to communicate with students, faculty, and staff, both on- and off-campus in an emergency. “Virginia Tech brought this issue home for us,” Friedberg says, “because they couldn’t communicate with two-thirds of their population who were en route to campus the day of the shootings.”
One of the greatest challenges in implementing these systems, Friedberg says, is creating a balance between respecting the culture of the University and being prepared for a Virginia Tech situation. “While we cannot ignore the challenges to national security, terrorist threats, and rampaging gunmen, we also do not want to change the fundamental nature of what Bucknell was, is, and will continue to be — a bucolic, historic, residential university with little crime and a strong and trusting community.”
The College Campus in a Post–Virginia Tech World
The Board of Trustees approves arming public safety.
In the wake of Virginia Tech and other university shootings, the image of the “sleepy college campus” in America has been shattered. According to Chief Jason Friedberg, Virginia Tech was a watershed moment for campus public safety as colleges across the nation, Bucknell included, quickly began reviewing their campus security measures.
Last fall, the University convened a security task force, which included Wayne Bromfield, general counsel; David Surgala, vice president for finance and administration; Susan Hopp, dean of students; Dave Myers, chief of staff; Paul McGuire, professor of mathematics; and a student advisory board. A series of public forums were held to discuss arming public safety officers. One of the arguments made for arming involved the response time of local police, where one to two officers work a shift, compared to the four officers on duty at Bucknell. Response time for outside officers would likely be longer than the one to two minutes for Bucknell officers, who also know the campus much better than outside officers.
In January, the Board of Trustees made the decision to arm Bucknell’s officers. The Bucknellian praised the process: “The University administration, the ad hoc task force, the Board of Trustees, and especially the Department of Public Safety should be commended for their conduct and candor throughout the decision process.”
Friedberg stresses the professionalism of Bucknell’s officers, all of whom have received academy training, are certified by the state as police offers, routinely receive psychological evaluations, and are well versed in both the college culture and the handling of weapons. Later this month, according to Dave Myers, the Board of Trustees will decide on the “protocols for using non-lethal and lethal force and what happens if there is an incident on campus, which will all be informed by further discussions on campus.” — Gigi Marino