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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 April 2007, 13:46 GMT 14:46 UK
How do colleges try to keep students safe?
By Marian Smith
BBC News website

Building on Harvard campus
University campuses in the US are often wide open spaces

With yet another deadly shooting at a US college, security on campuses is top priority. So what is it like being a student in America today?

I graduated from Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, Maryland, in 2005, and my peers and I endured our own campus tragedies.

Sadly, they were befitting our crime-ridden urban environment - two classmates were killed off campus - but they still made painfully evident the fact that students and even campuses are easy targets.

At Johns Hopkins, security on campus at least was fairly tight. We had a university police force which patrolled the grounds and the surrounding neighbourhoods, and "blue lights" - stand-alone emergency phones on campus that students could use to ring the police directly.

Other universities have similar features. "The idea was that there was no place on campus where you weren't within eyeshot of a blue light phone," said Catherine Ebert, a 2003 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, which also uses the system.

The security was always on duty and even if you were running late to class, there was no way to get in
Sasha Vasilyuk, New York University graduate

"We also had the 'spectaguards,' who weren't actually police, but university employed safety personnel. They were available 24/7 to escort you home either on foot or by car."

Security orientation

Mrs Ebert, who recently married a fellow Penn student, also described the extensive security seminar that first year students are required to attend at orientation.

Students at Virginia Tech
Dedicated campus police force of 25-30 officers typical
Police carry out patrols, act as escorts, investigate crimes
Colleges must release crime figures annually
2004 college crime figures:
48 murders (221 in 2002)
3,680 forcible sex offences
2,225 illegal weapon possessions

She said they were given information on how many security guards and police were on campus, as well as statistics on crime rates in Philadelphia and the number of muggings and assaults that happened on campus.

"I don't remember what the numbers were, but it was enough to scare me," she said.

Indeed, security is highest on urban campuses. Sasha Vasilyuk, who graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 2005 and then moved to New York City for graduate school, commented on the difference.

"Coming to New York University from Berkeley was shocking," she said. "Every time I'd walk into a building, I'd have to pull out my ID card. The security was always on duty and even if you were running late to class, there was no way to get in."

Small town laxity

Of course not all campuses are - or even should be - completely secure. Ms Vasilyuk noted that universities are supposed to be "places of free thought," and that overly tight security would "dampen the college experience".

And, as Mrs Ebert's husband, William, observed, many universities want to foster a sense of community amongst students and their surrounding neighbourhoods. "We did not have a campus wall," he said of University of Pennsylvania.

You hope that you're safe, particularly in a small town like Newark, but events like this make you think otherwise
Kaitlin Hoffman, University of Delaware graduate

In smaller college towns like Virginia Tech's Blacksburg, hi-tech security measures are simply not expected.

At the University of Delaware, in the quiet town of Newark, for instance, students simply carry key cards to enter halls of residence. Colleges often insist that students sign in their guests, but according to many students, that rule is rarely enforced.

Even if universities have security measures in place, they can hardly prepare for violence on the level of the Virginia Tech shootings.

"There are no metal detectors or anything like that to get into the dorms, so if this person had a key card, there would be nothing preventing him from walking in with a gun," said Kaitlin Hoffman, a 2005 graduate of the University of Delaware.

"You hope that you're safe, particularly in a small town like Newark," she added. "But events like this make you think otherwise."

Campus security measures
Few campuses have elaborate security, but experts suggest the following options could help keep staff and students safe
1) Wall provides secure perimeter and stops public entering campus
2) Security guards control access, with ID cards used by staff and students. CCTV cameras record movements of people and cars
3) Control room provides airport-style checks and acts as base for 25-30 campus police at typical college. Security systems monitored
4) Key buildings including labs and dorms have own security guard, CCTV and swipe card entry. Forced entry raises alarm
5) Tannoy system/siren conveys key information or raises alarm
6) Texts, automated phone calls and e-mails from control room warn students and staff of emergency and keep them updated
Source: AP/Strategic Technology Group

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