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Purdue fine tunes campus safety programs

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Purdue University has completed an assessment of its emergency preparedness plans and has added several measures in the past year to those already in place to try to avoid and manage crisis situations on campus.

Some of the changes address mental health issues, said Thomas B. Robinson, vice president for student services.

Mental health

Counseling and Psychological Services has implemented a triage program to provide students quick access to senior clinicians to determine whether a person is best served by the campus department or elsewhere. Clinicians will speak with the individual as quickly as possible, or at least within 24 hours of the initial call.

A committee called the behavior assessment team will meet regularly to address situations in which behavior indicates a person may pose a threat to themselves or others.

In 2006, Purdue received a $222,343 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for a program aimed at preventing suicide and academic attrition among students suffering from depression. Through the grant, co-written by three staff members from Counseling and Psychological Services and two faculty members in the College of Education, a program called ALIVE@Purdue – Awareness Linking Individuals to Valuable Education – has been implemented.

The project is designed to change attitudes toward help seeking, using graduate students as educators to train resident assistants in the residence halls and to provide direct outreach to students living in the halls. The grant funding covers professional staff time involved, stipends to graduate students who train the resident hall assistants, materials, public service announcements and other operating costs. University Residences and Student Health Center staff also have undergone training.

Specialized training also has been made available to public safety staff, said Carol Shelby, senior director of environmental health and public safety.

Members of the Purdue police and fire departments have trained to become members of crisis intervention teams. Team members were trained in first contact strategies for those in mental or emotional distress.

Increased security

Security also has been enhanced with patrols and video surveillance, Shelby said.

Exterior doors going directly to residence halls are now locked 24 hours a day at all locations.

Beginning this semester, the Purdue Student Security Patrol doubled in size from 25 to 50 people. The student Safewalk program will continue this fall. Members of the campus community can dial 494-SAFE to request a walking escort. Enhanced late-night CityBus service continues to provide alternate transportation to the Purdue community.

Video surveillance cameras were installed last year at Ross-Ade Stadium. Additional video cameras have been approved for installation, beginning with high-profile areas.

Purdue Alert

A new communications layer is in testing for Purdue Alert, the multifaceted notification system warning of emergencies, Shelby said. A loudspeaker system that will provide warnings in high-level emergencies was installed in the Bell Tower located in the central part of campus. Later this fall, it will contain prerecorded messages that are pertinent to specific buildings that can be activated by selecting an appropriate message via computer. The system also can be used to broadcast live messages.

The initiatives are included in the Purdue Integrated Emergency Operations Plan, located online at http://www.purdue.edu/emergency_preparedness, which details campus wide emergency procedures. It comes after university leaders studied lessons learned and best practices in place at other institutions over the last several months, said Ron Wright, director of emergency preparedness and planning.

To help decide the most appropriate response, Purdue also has established three emergency incident levels, depending on the specific circumstances. Purdue Alert will be used to make warning notifications to the Purdue community.

Alert possibilities include mass e-mail, the Purdue home page (http://www.Purdue.edu) and Facebook posting, notifications to residence hall officials and the media, text-messaging, broadcasts on Boiler TV, and outdoor sirens.

Level 1 is a minor, localized incident. Warning notifications will occur as time permits, and the types of notifications will be determined by the incident commander.

Level 2 is a major incident or potential threat that disrupts sizable portions of the campus. Mass e-mail, text-messaging, the Purdue home page and Facebook, Boiler TV, and notification to residence halls and media could be used, depending upon the severity and the situation.

Level 3 is a major disaster or imminent threat involving the entire campus and/or surrounding community, and all alert notifications, including sirens, could be used.

So far, about 16,300 students, faculty and staff have signed up to receive emergency text messages, and the university continues to encourage students to do so. To sign up, go to http://www.purdue.edu/securepurdue, click on “Change My Password,” enter your account name and password, and select the “Emergency Contact Information” link.

Wright said the Purdue Alert system will be tested once a semester.

Practice

On Aug. 20 the Campus Emergency Preparedness and Planning Office conducted a two-hour exercise with several university departments. The main goals were to encourage departments to continue their planning process and focused on the need for quick and effective communication. The exercise allowed departments to review their internal procedures and gain a better understanding of how Purdue’s police and fire departments will react to a major incident.

“Communication, coordination and training is crucial,” Wright said. “Even in safe environments, we have to be ready to respond. We continually train and attempt to improve the system.”

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