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Local colleges have different safety strategies

NORTH SHORE COMMUNITY COLLEGE

No one wants to think the unthinkable.

But Douglas Puska at North Shore Community College (NSCC) does just that.

As the school’s police chief since the 1980s, he’s spent much of the last decade fine-tuning school safety on the Lynn and Danvers campuses.

“As far as our school goes, we are in a very good shape now that we are armed,” he said. “We can protect our employees and students.”

Talk of arming the 25 campus police officers came after a shooter with three pistols and a semiautomatic rifle killed nine people at a rural Oregon community college three years ago. It was decided a few weeks later when an NSCC campus policeman on the Lynn campus was shot by a pellet gun from a passing car. He was wearing a bulletproof vest and was unhurt.

Puska stresses protecting a college campus poses different challenges than public schools where students are in the building for more than six hours.

“Here the schedule evolves and it’s all adults with minds of their own who can make independent decisions,” he said.

Both campuses have an updated mass communication network that includes a number of ways of notifying the school community if there’s an emergency. Nearly every space, he said, has a strobe light and a speaker combination where a prerecorded message can be heard. There are 160 cameras in all the public spaces in Lynn and Danvers.

The federal Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act requires colleges and universities to test the emergency evacuation once a year; NSCC conducts the test twice a year, he said.

The schools use the Rave Alert Emergency Notification system which communicates emergency alerts via mobile phones, landlines, email, text, and social media.

“The alert can be launched with a touch of a button from dispatch in Lynn or our Danvers office,” he said. “If a staff person or a student is on a college computer, they would see the message come across it.”  

If there’s a shooter on campus, Puska said the most important thing to do is run, get far away as possible and call police.

“Obviously, that’s not possible if the shooter is outside your door, or if you are confronted face to face, that’s when you fight,” he said. “The number one thing is to get out if you can.”

SALEM STATE UNIVERSITY

Salem State University is constantly developing new ways to keep students safe, and has recently rolled out an app that allows users to connect with police, and new trainings for students and staff.

“While we train for a wide range of emergencies, given recent events throughout the country, we recognize that spontaneous active shooter events are at the forefront of everyone’s mind,” said Gene Labonte, university police chief and assistant vice-president of public safety and risk management, in a statement. “We encourage students, staff and faculty to be active participants in ensuring their own safety.”

University police train people to use the Run, Hide, Fight strategy, and offer training and a video made available to the public that reinforces the strategies and tactics associated with this philosophy.

University police routinely train on active shooter response and maintain a strong relationship with local and state law enforcement partners who are available to provide support during a response to an active shooter event.

“While we work diligently to prepare to respond to emergencies, we strongly believe that prevention is our best strategy,” said Labonte, who encourages students and staff to report any unusual behavior and suspicious activity to the police department.

Anyone on campus can now do that using the RAVE Guardian App, which allows users to connect directly with university police dispatch with the touch of button. Users can report suspicious or criminal activity by phone or text tips to the school’s police dispatch in a non-emergency situation.

People using the app can also share their location when reporting so that police can connect with them more easily in the event of an emergency.

Police offer training for faculty and staff to guide them on best strategies to respond to any number of emergencies. Additionally, University Police and Dean of Students Office are currently working on additional ways to reach a broader base of students in an effort to provide more in-depth training for them.

“The overall safety and security of the Salem State University community is our No. 1 priority,” said Labonte. “Our full-time university police department works closely with a variety of departments on campus so they are fully prepared to respond to emergency situations that may arise.”

Item staffers Thomas Grillo and Bridget Turcotte wrote this report.

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