Task force formed to discuss university security

This week the Virginia Tech Panel, which met to review last year’s April massacre, issued a report outlining 70 recommendations for university security measures.

In light of this report, President Donna E. Shalala convened a task force to review the panel’s suggestions. The task force met for the first time yesterday and consisted of representatives from Health Services, the Counseling Center, Student Affairs, Communications, University of Miami Police Department, Student Government and additional representatives from faculty and students.

Each representative received the 147 page Virginia Tech report, along with 18 appendices, and discussed the following issues: findings, background and scope; university security (emergency planning, campus alerting, police role and training); mental health history and records; information privacy laws; gun purchase and campus policies; mass murder; EMS response; medical examining; immediate aftermath and road to healing.

Although five months have passed since the shootings in Virginia, the university did not wait until the report was published to begin crisis analysis.

Operation Sandbox, the July 28 police training exercises held at UM, tested the ability of multiple emergency response organizations to work together during a disaster. Nineteen organizations were involved, and the event was the largest of its kind on a university campus.

Additionally, Shalala sent out a letter to the parents of incoming freshmen asking them to notify the university of their children’s mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety or eating disorders. These notifications were sent to Pamela L. Deroian, associate director of the Counseling Center.

Rebecca M. Fox, assistant to the president, noted that the university already has a more robust crisis response team compared to other institutions.

“We’ve had to deal with hurricanes for years,” Fox said. “This has allowed us to form a crisis team, which can respond immediately.”

With a team already in place, now the university has to focus on a wide range of possible disasters-not just hurricanes or school shootings.

The students involved in the meeting also contributed ideas to deal with crises.

Danny Carvajal, president of Student Government, raised the question, “Are students educated on what to do in case of a crisis, and how do we prevent mass hysteria?”

Rachel S. Papeika, a law student, said she went to UM as an undergraduate and now as a graduate, which has given her unique insight.

“I feel like the Law school is really an island on its own, and I think the communication lines between the grad school and the university need to be improved.”

Although the task force met to assess the current security system, drastic changes may not be necessary.

“Our hope is that we will identify places where we might be able to get some ideas, do things a little better and improve on what we have,” Fox said. “But, having been at other places, I’ve been very impressed by the policies and also the procedures in place for guaranteeing student safety and security.”

Fox also encourages the input from faculty and students, noting that it is the responsibility of every member of the UM community to be aware of safety tips, UM police newsletters and possible shortcoming of on-campus security.

“Keep your eyes posted and look out for each other,” Fox said. “Look out for yourselves, but also look out for your friends.”

Lilliam Albizu-Campos contributed to this article.

Karyn Meshbane may be contacted at k.meshbane@umiami.edu.