January 2, 2013
Dr. Dustin Swanger
The recent and tragic killings of young children and their teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut brings to the forefront, once again, the discussion of safety at educational institutions. While the focus of the discussion, this time, is on school districts, events of the past – Virginia Tech., Texas A & M, University of Washington, and others – have demonstrated that college campuses are vulnerable to random acts of violence as well. Whether on a campus, in a school, mall, or movie theater, we cannot be truly safe, anywhere. We live in a different society than we did even twenty years ago.
The balance for Fulton-Montgomery Community College, like all colleges, is providing a safe campus while maintaining an open campus. That balance is often a moving objective based on current events. We could build a fence around the campus and provide a guarded entrance. We could put metal detectors in all of the buildings. We could increase our public safety force by ten-fold. We could spend a lot of money, and still not be totally safe. More practically, we need to be diligent and prepared while hoping that we never experience such a horrible act on our campus.
Over the past several years FM has taken a number of steps to improve safety while maintaining an open campus. We have added public safety officers. For its first nearly 40 years of operation, FM had no public safety presence on campus. Administrators were expected to respond to incidents. Today we have four full-time peace officers (far more training required than security) and numerous part-time public safety personnel, many of whom are full-time police officers when they are not on campus.
Almost all of our public safety officers are trained in various levels of use of force and carry weapons while on campus (often a subject of debate on college campuses). Over eight years ago, FM made the decision that safety is paramount and providing trained individuals the tools they may need in an emergency is the right step. We have also worked to develop and maintain a strong relationship with area law enforcement agencies who respond to the campus when needed. We have even conducted an active shooter drill on campus with area law enforcement.
We have added technology to campus for safety as well. The campus has “blue-light phones” that ring directly to 911 should someone feel threatened. We installed cameras on campus. Nearly every public location on campus is covered by a camera that records a clear image day or night. We have a new public address system that allows us to communicate a clear message all across campus from three locations.
We have created and trained an Incident Command Team (ICT) that activates during an incident from a broken water pipe to a bomb threat. In accordance with our Emergency Management Plan, the ICT assesses the threat, makes decisions regarding actions needed, and monitors the incident throughout its duration.
FM has taken the appropriate steps to provide a safe campus for our students and community. I hope that we never experience a tragedy. I have met presidents who have, and it has forever changed them and their campus.
The most important step we can take is to have real and meaningful discussions with our children, our neighbors, and our community about how we foster a society of peace. Perhaps the first step is for the media to stop sensationalizing these horrible acts of violence and stop making those who commit them famous all across the country.
Dr. Swanger is President of FM.