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Progress, but work remains on Massachusetts campus security

October 10, 2015

BOSTON (AP) — Mass shootings on college campuses — including the Oct. 1 shooting at a community college in Oregon — have school administrators around the country re-evaluating campus security plans. In Massachusetts, community colleges and public universities have made strong progress in some areas of campus security since recommendations were issued after the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007. But progress has been uneven in other areas, in part due to funding shortfalls.

Massachusetts Higher Education Commissioner Carlos Santiago spoke about the challenges in an interview with The Associated Press.

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Q: The higher education system in Massachusetts is made up of 15 community colleges, nine state universities and five campuses of the University of Massachusetts. Does the Board of Higher Education provide guidelines or recommendations for campus security plans for active shooters?

A: The Board of Higher Education sets state policy, and local boards implement those state policies, largely based on their own characteristics, needs and regional focus. ... In 2007, after the Virginia Tech shootings and then following the Northern Illinois University shooting, the board, using state dollars, commissioned a report around campus safety, and that report provided system-wide recommendations. Twenty-seven recommendations were put out to the system of institutions, and the institutions were asked to begin to make changes on their campuses to follow those recommendations. The report came out in 2008.

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Q: What were some of those recommendations?

A: The recommendations were around a few separate issues — one was the police themselves — whether campus police would have weapons or not — how a campus should notify with early detection and intervention, there were recommendations around mental health, and about physical and electronic security.

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Q: Are the plans for responding to an active shooter shared with faculty, staff and students? Are the schools required to do practice drills in the event of an active shooter on campus?

A: The recommendation is to include faculty, staff and students. There’s a lot of training that goes on on the campuses in terms of identifying potential problems, in terms of identifying students. For example, if a faculty member gets a threatening letter, that letter should be reviewed by specialists. ...They are asked to have planning processes in place, they are asked to engaged in threat analysis and to do what we call tabletop simulations, which is basically simulating an incident. It’s predominantly staff and faculty, but they recruit students to participate, as well.

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Q: What kind of progress has been made on implementing the campus safety recommendations made in 2008?

A: I think if there’s one area that we think has uniformly progressed on change for the better, it’s the emergency notification systems ... telling those on campus to lock themselves in and telling people off campus not to come ... they’re also using social media more efficiently. There is an expenditure side to all of this, and that’s why you see, at times, some uneven progress. There are certain campuses that can afford some of these technological changes and physical changes to the campus, and some campuses just don’t have the resources to do that.

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Q: Is the system considering mandating certain security measures in the future?

A: I think part of the discussion we’ll have with the board is, can we do more? Can we assure minimum uniform standards across the campuses, allowing them the flexibility dictated by their particular situation on campuses, but then saying, ‘Look, as a minimum, you have to do x, y and z.’

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