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Revista de Prensa: Artículos

jueves, 12 de abril de 2012

Campus security plans fall through the cracks

Ted Gregory

Northwestern University is among the colleges and universities that haven't filed a state-mandated
emergency plan

In February 2008 a gunman opened fire in a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University, killing five students and wounding 21.

Soon after, state lawmakers tried to make sure colleges and universities were prepared to respond to such an emergency.

They passed a law requiring them to create and practice detailed plans to prevent violence and manage emergencies by January 2009.

Three years later, only 66 of the state's 185 institutions have filed the required plans, records show.

In the Chicago area, the schools that haven't filed include City Colleges of Chicago, Loyola University Chicago, Northwestern University, the University of Chicago and — until a Tribune reporter called — DePaul University, according to records from the Illinois Board of Higher Education. A spokesman for the U. of C. — after a Tribune reporter called Wednesday — said it sent its plans via FedEx on Thursday to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

A representative for DeVry University — again after a Tribune reporter called — said the school would file its plan shortly.

The tepid response has raised concerns over security preparedness on Illinois campuses, public safety administrators and experts say. An estimated 900,000 students are enrolled in college in Illinois. And although many institutions have some sort of response plans to life-threatening, campuswide emergencies, it's unclear how effective they are, a Tribune review of state records found.

"If a disaster occurs, college and university presidents want to say, 'We have a plan, we practiced the plan and we implemented the plan,'" said Laurence Mulcrone, a retired Illinois State Police officer who has helped schools create such plans. "If they can't say that, then they're not prepared."

The Tribune examination of records from the IBHE and the Illinois Community College Board sheds light on why the effectiveness of the Campus Security Enhancement Act may be in question.

Among the newspaper's findings:

•No state agency is responsible for reviewing the effectiveness of the plans.

•$25 million committed to help schools comply with the law has failed to materialize.

•Wording in the law makes it unclear whether institutions are required to file plans.

•The law lacks an enforcement mechanism.

All of the state's nine public universities, on 12 campuses, have filed plans with the IBHE. Thirty-nine of the state's 48 community colleges also have submitted plans to the ICCB. And 14 of the 56 private colleges and universities, as well as one law school, filed plans as of March 9, the IBHE reports.

None of the 30 independent, for-profit institutions — such as DeVry, Westwood College and the Illinois Institute of Art — have filed with the IBHE, records show.

Who's in charge?

One of the concerns with the campus security act is the state's failure to put an agency in charge of compliance, Mulcrone and others said.

At the same time, college administrators say the requirements are difficult to meet.

"It's an overwhelming task," said Von Young Jr., president of the Illinois Campus Law Enforcement Administrators and director of public safety at Parkland College in Champaign. Parkland has filed its emergency operations and violence prevention plans.

"It took us over a year just to look at different aspects of our campus, and I'm a small commuter school," he said.

Representatives of institutions that hadn't filed plans expressed an array of responses when asked why.

Northwestern has composed security plans, reviewed them, hired consultants and is scheduling a drill this spring, said Al Cubbage, vice president for university relations. He said that the process included "many, many meetings" and that the school expects to file plans with the state very soon.

"We very much understand the necessity for this," he said.

The U. of C. has detailed plans on its emergency management website. Those plans include a breakdown of emergency notifications and directions for individuals and departments, and a committee that frequently reviews strategies.

The university in January 2009 gave a copy of the plans to the Chicago Fire Department, and they are on file at the city's office of Emergency Communications, U. of C. spokesman Steve Kloehn said Wednesday.

Robert Fine, Loyola's director of campus safety, said "it's embarrassing" that he "didn't know that law existed."

Fine said Loyola has extensive plans on how to deal with a shooter, a hostage situation or other emergencies. Measures include an instant notification system that sends texts, emails, voice mails and other notices to students.

But Fine said he was unsure where to send the plans.

Representatives from the Illinois Institute of Art, Westwood and DeVry said they, too, have detailed plans that the schools update and practice. Officials at the Illinois Institute of Art and Westwood said school administrators were unaware they were required to file the plans or they interpreted the law as being unclear on that step.

`Why should I do this?'

Roy Garcia, district director of safety and security at City Colleges, called compliance "a monumental task." The colleges' enrollment, he said, totals more than 120,000 in seven locations with additional satellite locations.

"We're on the right track to be in compliance," Garcia added, although he declined to set a date when the colleges' plans would be ready.

Confusion among school administrators may stem from ambiguous wording in the three-page law and 16 pages of state administrative code that explains its workings.

The law requires each higher education institution to establish the plans with local emergency management, mental health, governmental and nearby school district officials. The schools are required to offer training and practice the plan every year and to develop teams for violence prevention and campus threat assessment.

The code directs school administrators to establish a detailed command structure for emergencies that lays out who is in charge of what and procedures for seeking emergency assistance, exchanging information with emergency responders and handling information.

The administrative code also requires schools to provide detailed steps on "mass care" for displaced people, health and medical services, even mortuary assistance.

But the code merely states that the plans "should be" provided to emergency and disaster relief offices and to the IBHE or ICCB. The IBHE on its website states that "a number of provisions that were mandatory … have been made advisory in the final version," a compromise Garcia said was made in June 2009 to lessen opposition from college and university administrators.

A onetime narcotics investigator for the state police and former Sycamore, Ill., police chief, Garcia has a rare perspective. Before taking the job with City Colleges in July, he helped write the security enhancement act and served as a state liaison to aid schools in complying with the act.

He said many public safety and security directors — particularly in smaller private schools — lack expertise in establishing the plans.

That shortfall has been exacerbated by the state's failure to deliver the $25 million Campus Security Enhancement Grant Program, which would have helped schools put the law into practice, Garcia and others said.

The result is that some school administrators, lacking funding, ignore the law, Garcia and others said.

Nearly as detrimental, experts said, is the absence of enforcement. The law and state administrative code never mention penalties for not complying and fail to place an agency in charge of enforcing the act.

"A lot of the private schools said, 'Well, if there's no teeth, why should I do this?'" said Garcia, who called the campus security act "a fantastic idea."

Federal guidelines less specific

The federal government has addressed campus safety preparedness through updates to the 1991 Jeanne Clery Act. Named for a woman raped and murdered in her dorm room at Lehigh University, in Bethlehem, Pa., in 1986, the act focused on reporting and disclosing campus crime statistics and promoting safety education.

On Aug. 14, 2008, amendments were added to the act that included a requirement to "immediately notify the campus community upon the confirmation of a significant emergency or dangerous situation involving an immediate threat."

Institutions were directed to publicize their emergency response and evacuation procedures and test them every year. Violators could be fined up to $27,500 and might lose federal grant funding if they failed to comply.

Eight days after the law took effect, on Aug. 22, 2008, then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed the Campus Security Enhancement Act, which is more comprehensive than the federal requirements.

It remains unclear whether campus safety is affected by failing to file security plans with the state.

Without an agency reviewing the plans — the IBHE declines to release them, saying public disclosure could compromise the plans' effectiveness — individual institutions or perhaps outside consultants are left to decide whether the protocols work.

One of the law's sponsors defended the legislation, saying lawmakers wanted to bring uniformity and a detailed strategy to emergency situations on campus, and to be sure schools practiced those strategies. The Legislature didn't want "government to be that overreaching," said state Rep. Robert Pritchard, R-Sycamore.

He bristled at the suggestion that the state failed to provide funding, noting that campus safety "is already (schools') fiduciary responsibility" and that many higher education institutions have received Homeland Security funding.

"I'm extremely disappointed" in the low number of filed reports, he said.

The issue was less of a concern to students walking Northwestern's Evanston campus recently.

Freshman Alex Baum and sophomore Zach Flanzman said the school's Safe Rides program, prominent police presence, tight dorm security and regular tests of the university emergency notification system give them confidence the campus is safe.

What would happen in a spontaneous outburst of violence on campus, such as a shooter?

Ultimately, both said, they thought NU would respond capably, but added Flanzman, "No university is in a position to handle it well."

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