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Preparing for an emergency

U revamps emergency communications; introduces all-in-one Web site

By Pauline Oo

U students at an info table with freebies.
U students dig into free doughnuts, whistles, and safety information at one of the events this winter to promote the U's new Emergency Preparedness Web site.

February 25, 2008

It was a grey day with a chill in the air, but that didn't stop the University of Minnesota's Chief Law Enforcement Officer Greg Hestness and about seven of his police officers from handing out coffee and doughnuts, along with safety info cards, hand sanitizers, and shiny gold "alert" whistles, to students and other members of the U community on the east end of the Washington Avenue Bridge. The event was designed to raise awareness about the U's new comprehensive emergency preparedness Web site. In addition to providing personal safety and campus security tips, the Web site is chockfull of information about how to deal with such things as health and weather emergencies, power outages or flooding, threats in the work place, and a shooter roaming the campus. (Among the suggestions for the latter: stay low or behind heavy objects and silence your cell phone.) "We're here to help create a safer campus, and we need absolutely everyone's support to do that," says Hestness. Students walking to and from classes were the intended audience of today's bridge event. They devoured almost 1,000 doughnuts and more than 20 gallons of coffee while stopping to chat with police officers. Several few female students went one step further, signing up for a Feb. 26 self-defense class--6 to 9 p.m., 145 Nicholson Hall--sponsored by the Minnesota Student Association (MSA). "Our students have a lot going on in their lives, and safety may not be the first thing on their minds," says Hestness. "That's why we're here today with University Relations and MSA. The goal is make as many students as possible aware of our campus safety resources, like the new Web site, TXT-U, and [301-SAFE, the prerecorded emergency message line.]"

Personal safety

Watch a video on personal safety by U students.

If you ever need someone to walk or bike with you, call the Security Monitor Program, a branch of the U's police department. The service to and from campus locations, as well as nearby neighborhoods, is available for free to all students, staff, faculty, and visitors; call 612-624-WALK (9255).

Hestness adds that "it's a constant effort" to inform the University community about security measures and upgrades because a quarter of the U's population turns over each time a new school year starts. The three new resources compliment the many safety and emergency measures already in place on the Twin Cities campus. For example, the 24-hour 911 dispatch center; the more than 900 security cameras; the 200 yellow phones for emergency, medical, and service-related calls; and the 20 blue-light emergency call boxes placed outside campus buildings. A daily escort service is also available around the clock.

"So far, the turnout has been great. We had a ton of students stop by at 10 a.m., and we're anticipating another wave at 11," says MSA president Emma Olson, who came up with the idea for the event. "I think campus safety is always an important issue for students. A student has the right to feel safe when attending a University, [but a lot of] students do not realize the different campus safety programs available to them. Through this [Emergency Preparedness] Web site and event [today] we hope to help students become more aware of safety programs on campus."

gold whistles
The gold safety whistles distributed by officers from the U's police department

Olson, a political science and business junior, says she and Ross Skattum, MSA vice president, will be touting the Web site and other safety information to different student groups every month. "The key thing, really, is raising awareness."

Further reading In November, the U launched TXT-U on the Twin Cities campus to notify students, staff and faculty of emergencies and campus closings. More than 12,000 people have registered for the service. The Crookston campus launched its TXT-U service on Feb. 12. To learn more, read "1 new message:" or see TXT-U.