Monday, March 31, 2008

Parents and Students: Is Your College Safe?

All parents, current and aspiring college kids should take a look at the Reader's Digest exposé on crime rates in colleges and best practices employed to address such crime issues.

One statistic that’s highlighted is that 80% of all crimes are committed by students against students as reported by Security on Campus Inc. Some may find this quite credible in light of the well publicized horrific campus shooting at Virginia Tech and other schools but bear in mind that the statistic also encompasses other crimes like sex offenses, aggravated assaults and burglaries which perhaps do not get comparable publicity.

Alison Kiss of Security on Campus emphasizes that the most dangerous period of a student’s life is the first six weeks of college when crimes like acquaintance rape find vulnerable victims. It is important to bear in mind though that one should not let one’s guard down after this red zone period as the facts show that crimes will occur at any time. Burglaries especially are relatively common with a reported 40,000 taking place on college campuses per year. Remember the students want a home away from home and so their computers, printers, cameras, cell phones, dvd’s, cd’s and cash are prime targets for thieving criminals.

A few of the best practices highlighted due to their measured success include:

  1. Emergency notification system warning students via text messages, emails and strategically placed plasma screen e-boards of security breaches or unsafe happenings on campus (St. Johns University, New York)
  2. More than 100 Smart cameras posted around campus to detect suspicious activity (Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore)
  3. Training program for staff from janitorial to faculty to help them detect signs of emotional illness (Cornell University, New York)

In addition to the systems implemented by the institutions here are some steps that security experts suggest for students to ensure their safety:

  1. Sign up for campus emergency system
  2. Secure windows and doors especially those in rooms on the lower floors
  3. Cover windows with blinds or curtains to prevent peepers
  4. Install a GPS unit on computers to facilitate tracking its location
  5. Keep valuables in safe heavy enough to deter removal
  6. Install a battery powered smoke detector if none is pre-installed in dorm room
  7. Identify two exits in case of fire
  8. Program cell phone with emergency numbers and charge phone regularly
  9. Keep a working flashlight
  10. My personal contribution: Be alert and follow your instinct. If you feel that something is amiss get out fast!!

Reader’s Digest invited 291 colleges and universities to take part in a survey to measure their security and safety readiness. Johns Hopkins University, University of Texas New York University among others ranked high given their scores for variables such as dorm rooms with self locking doors, full time security, attendants and cameras. Of the 291 institutions contacted only 135 colleges participated and the results which can be seen here show that many schools are addressing safety concerns with seriousness. Still there is quite a bit of work to be done.

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