Friday, April 20, 2007

Words of Preparedness from the University of Virginia

I've been compelled to write a lot today. Things are about to change a little and I don't know how it'll impact my writing. But I wanted to share an email from the Office of the Vice President and Chief Student Affairs Officer Patricia Lampkin at the University of Virginia in response to this week's terrible events at Virginia Tech. This email reached the entire UVA student community.

The complete text follows and represents exactly some of the steps schools everywhere should be taking, some of what I wrote about earlier in the week.

"We are nearing the end of a long, difficult week. From the words of Virginia Tech student leader Elizabeth Hart in an open letter to our community, it is clear that your outpouring of support has been a source of comfort during a time of great loss and suffering. For so many of us, fully absorbing what has happened at our sister campus and coming to terms with it will understandably take time.

"One subject now on many minds is our own safety procedures at U.Va. Yesterday, I sent parents an e-mail summarizing steps that the University takes to address and communicate critical incidents. You can read this message at:

"Reviewing and strengthening our safety procedures is an ongoing priority. This fall we will be adopting a new emergency communications system that will combine LCD broadcast screens in key buildings with text messaging to cell phones, which will deliver information and instructions based on the circumstances. You will hear more about this in the near future and will have an opportunity to register your cell phone number with the University, solely for emergency communications. We will continue to use other forms of communication to ensure that multiple systems are used as effectively as possible.

"Safety is both an institutional issue and a personal one. While experts tell us our schools and cities are statistically safer than ever, we must accept the realities of random, inexplicable violence. Being prepared for the unexpected has to become part of taking care of ourselves.

"What can we do personally? Being prepared does not mean living in fear. It does mean taking safety seriously and not blithely dismissing the simple things ~V locking your doors, walking friends home when it is dark and late, and reporting situations that bother you.

"If you are in immediate danger, call 911. If you are on Grounds near a blue-light phone, you can pick it up and immediately be connected with University Police.

"Basic safety reminders cannot constitute a set recipe that will apply in every conceivable situation. Your own judgment is an important factor. Remembering the basics is a good place to start. Please read these reminders with fresh eyes and a commitment to your personal well-being:

"Personal Safety
* Be aware of your surroundings. Be careful not to use a cell phone or iPod that may distract you while you walk alone in the dark.
* Avoid isolated areas.
* Avoid walking alone at night. Use SafeRide, walk with friends, or take a late-night weekend bus. The number for SafeRide is 434/242-1122.
* Use the lighted pathway system.
* Tell a friend where you are going and when you will return.
* Trust your instincts about a person or situation. If you feel uncomfortable, remove yourself from the situation and immediately report your concerns to police by calling 911.

"Using Cell Phones
*When an emergency occurs, it is important to keep cell and phone lines open so that communication systems are not jeopardized. Work with your parents and family to develop a communication plan in a time of crisis.

"Residence Hall Safety
* Never allow strangers to follow you into the building.
* Call 911 if you see someone in the building who seems suspicious.
* Never prop open card-reader doors or leave room doors open.
* Secure doors and windows prior to leaving.
*Contact your Resident Advisor should you have concerns about the safety or well-being of someone living in your dorm.

"Home/Apartment Safety
* Keep doors and windows locked.
* Use outdoor lighting.
* Work with your landlord to ensure that overgrown shrubs and trees are trimmed in order to reduce the possibility of prowlers hiding in dense, darkened areas.
* If you see any of the following, immediately call the police at 911: a prowler, someone peeping into a residence, an individual watching, photographing or filming an area, or any other suspicious behavior. You can remain anonymous in your report.
* Work with your neighbors and fellow community members to ensure a safe environment.

"If a Crime is Witnessed
Call 911 or anonymously provide information by going to the Crime Tips Web site:

"Bias Incidents
If you or someone you know witnesses a bias incident, help is available. The following Web site provides complete details on how to report the incident, what constitutes bias, and what you can expect in response from the University:

"In closing, I encourage you to continue to seek support from your friends, parents, fellow students, faith communities, and all of us who care about you. Focus on your studies and your interests, and find strength from the people around you."

-Vice President and Chief Student Affairs Officer Patricia Lampkin

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