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Emergency preparedness and a safe U

By Adam Overland


September 10, 2008

Times have changed since students and teachers practiced "duck and cover" as a warning alarm wailed, hiding under their desks and protecting their vulnerable necks from the potential burns of a nuclear blast. Emergencies today take different forms, and the technology used to communicate these changes has evolved as well, from the loud siren to the subtle phone text. Nostalgia aside for a time when we only recognized one threat, the University of Minnesota maintains a comprehensive emergency preparedness Web site with which staff, faculty, and students should be familiar. In addition to providing personal safety and campus security tips, the site outlines information about how to deal with such things as personal safety, health and weather emergencies, power outages or flooding, and even bomb threats.

With students returning to campus and more than 5,500 of them new this year, staff and faculty can help create a safe U by being a resource for students, and participating in the services themselves. For example, faculty, students, and staff all have the option of using the campus escort service, 624-WALK, through which a simple phone call will net you a capable security escort. Vice Provost for Student Affairs Jerry Rinehart believes campuses in general have a reputation for being safer than the communities they're in, but that within any vibrant community like the Twin Cities, there will be spillover.

"The theme from all reports that we see from police about events that occur is just to be an observant and engaged community," says Rinehart. "It's not that we should be hypersensitive to each other's behavior, but that we've created the environment where we know when we need to go to the next step and tell someone when we notice something unusual or potentially threatening."

One of the struggles in creating such a culture is how to go about making a University campus a safe place that also maintains a sense of openness. "It's always about balancing that line between being a welcoming and friendly place and at the same time a wise and safe place," says Rinehart. "By having people work together we can be our own self monitoring organization."

TXT-U, the University emergency and voluntary cell-phone text-messaging system is certainly an unobtrusive way to go about keeping the U safe. Since its launch last year, more than 16,000 staff, faculty, and students have signed up for the simple and free emergency notification service. "TXT-U is an area where everyone can contribute--by making sure they sign up and that their contact information is up-to-date," says Rinehart.

To see more about how the U is working to create a safe environment, see "Preparing for an emergency" and "1 new message:" Visit the emergency preparedness Web site for more information.