April 18, 2007

Local colleges review security after Virginia Tech shootings


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
SUNY Cortland College students board the campus bus outside Corey Union between classes Tuesday. As more details of the events at Virgina Tech unfold, questions arise about how to deal with and prevent such situations.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — In light of Monday’s shooting spree at Virginia Tech, local college campuses are reviewing their own security measures.
“I imagine all colleges in America are looking at their readiness,” SUNY Cortland President Erik Bitterbaum said.
He said Tuesday police chiefs throughout the SUNY system were attending a meeting on emergency preparedness.
“We think we are prepared; we have a fairly good system,” said Bitterbaum, but he said the college would be looking at new ways and new technology to communicate with students.
Walter Poland, dean of student services at Tompkins Cortland Community College, said the first of several meetings was held at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday in response to the shootings at Virginia Tech with an extended version of the college’s crisis management team.
He said the meeting addressed the question: “Is TC3 ready?”
“We think the security system is pretty good now,” said Poland, but there are gaps.
TC3 has a policy for lockdown in its Health and Safety Procedures Manual, in which a general announcement is made and repeated to go to the nearest office or classroom and once inside the doors are to be closed and if possible, locked; and lights and unnecessary equipment turned off.
Staff and instructors are to ask students to remain calm and as quiet as possible and no one is allowed to leave the room until emergency personnel give the OK. Phones in classrooms are programmed to dial 911.
The manual notes that the announcement system does not reach all areas of the building and in those areas employees are asked to relay messages to individuals who may not have heard the page.
Poland said there are “a handful of public spaces where the system is not operative,” but could not say where.
The new athletic facility under construction would be connected to the communications system, he said.
“The residence halls are not connected to that system,” he said.
He said communication with students in the dorms is through e-mail or speaking directly to students.
Poland said one goal would be to look for a means of communicating with all students. Ninety-five percent of students could be reached by e-mail, but there is no institutional e-mail. He said the college hopes to have such a system in place by the end of the year.
To identify possible needs and solutions, the college formed four sub-groups Tuesday. Poland summarized the groups as follows:
l a technology group will address internal and external communications, including how to tie in residence halls;
l an underlying standards group that will look at desired response times for various situations;
l a group to look at existing plans, especially at other residential campuses; and
l a group to look at what kinds of communication to put in place for such incidents.
Poland said within the next month the group would meet again and said students would be given the opportunity to join group discussions.
Poland said notices have already gone out to students about Virginia Tech, offering services such as counseling.
At SUNY Cortland, its chief of police and vice president of student affairs would determine whether there is a serious threat, according to the Campus Safety Report published on the college’s Web site.
When a threat is identified a “Campus Crime Alert” or “Timely Warning” would be prepared and distributed to the campus community within two hours of identifying a threat through Corey (Union) Information, WSUC-FM, e-mail, postings on buildings main entrances and on the college’s Web site.
Bitterbaum said this campus safety report is done yearly, but in the case of an emergency, the college tends to err on the side of caution. He said in a crisis situation, the college community is brought together immediately and students are informed quickly, such as when local flooding closed the college or last week when a student was missing.
Bitterbaum said in the case of the missing student, city and county police officials were contacted immediately and students were also informed of the situation immediately.
Bitterbaum said the student was found and “she was distraught.”
The SUNY Cortland president said all dorms have card access and most have cameras that film who is coming into and going from the dorms; all will eventually be equipped with this technology.
“There’s no such thing as 100 percent,” added Bitterbaum. He said in the case of Virginia Tech it was supposedly a deranged killer who lived in the dorm.
“Tears just welled up in my eyes,” Bitterbaum said when he heard newscasters describe the students and faculty who died. Both Bitterbaum and Poland said their thoughts and prayers went out to the Virginia Tech community.
Bitterbaum said he wrote a long letter to Virginia Tech’s president and the Faculty Senate sent a resolution of condolence to the college; the Student Government Association also plans to pass a similar resolution when it meets Monday.

SUNY students speak up on sense of safety

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Some students at SUNY Cortland said they feel safe on campus, despite the news of deadly shootings Monday at the Virginia Tech campus.
“You can’t constantly be prepared for something like that,” Adrianne Fuller, a senior at SUNY Cortland said about the situation at Virginia Tech. “All you can ask is that they (emergency personnel) respond quickly and efficiently. I think they (University Police Department) do that.”
Fuller and Luke Wentlent, a SUNY Cortland sophomore, were staffing the campus information desk at Corey Union on Tuesday afternoon.
“UPD is usually spread out pretty good,” said Wentlent, who commutes from Greene. By 6 a.m. Monday, he said, news of the campus closing due to weather was posted on a scrolling banner on the SUNY Cortland Web site and sent out in e-mails to all students.
Fuller said she lives off-campus now and drives to her job on campus because she does not like to walk alone at night off-campus. But, she said when she lived on-campus she did not mind walking back to her dorm alone at night.
Fuller pointed to the college’s Safe Ride program and the blue lights — lights at emergency phones that are tied into University Police — as things that help make the campus safe.
Fuller said someone was missing for a day and e-mails were sent to all the students and flyers were posted. “They kept us informed,” she said of University Police. “She was found the next day,” Fuller said, and another round of e-mails went out to inform students, she said.
Fuller and Wentlent said this incident just happened last week.
“I usually feel safe,” said SUNY Cortland sophomore Michael Brandes. An on-campus student, he said the residence halls are locked and can’t be accessed without a proper student identification card. Each identification card will only open the dorm the student lives in.
Brandes said campus academic buildings are locked on weekends. That eliminates the threat, for example, of someone getting at chemicals stored in Bowers Hall, the science building, he said.



City’s moratorium debate ends in call for counsel

Staff Reporter

“What are we trying to accomplish here?”
That was the main question Common Council members had during an hour-long work session Tuesday over a proposed moratorium on multi-unit apartment developments.
By the end, the council had decided that it would look into hiring a land-use attorney to help plot a course of action.
The moratorium would target the city’s 2nd, 3rd and 4th wards, but could be expanded across the city. It would allow the city to address its land-use regulations while new development is halted.
Enacting a moratorium could take at least two months, said city Director of Administration and Finance Andy Damiano, adding that it could be problematic basing it on wards rather than zoning districts.
If a local law is drafted, it would have to sit on the table for 10 days and then be subject to a coordinated review by the county Planning Department and the city Planning Commission. The recommendations of those bodies would then be reviewed by the council and presented during a public hearing; the State Environmental Quality Review Act process would also be required under local law.
The moratorium had been proposed by alderwoman Sue Feiszli (D-6th Ward) at the end of March, spurred on by the proposed development of an apartment building in the former George Brockway mansion on West Court Street by local developer John Del Vecchio.
“It’s not a result of it, but it’s because of it,” Feiszli said, explaining that she had spoken to residents in the targeted wards and realized that they were upset because they didn’t feel the proper balance between residents and students was being maintained.
But Damiano once again stressed that there is no definition of “student housing” in the city’s code, and to act as if there were would be discriminatory.
“Are we trying to stop one project, or are we trying to solve these problems?” Mayor Tom Gallagher asked during the work session.
One of the “problems” referred to is a perceived increase in the number of single-family homes being converted into student housing, and this was what the proposed moratorium was supposed to put an end to, in addition to all new construction of apartment developments.


Clothing drive seeks professional attire

Staff Reporter

“Recycling” a tight suit, dress or other professional clothing that just doesn’t fit got easier Thursday.
SUNY Cortland student volunteers from the New York Public Interest Research Group have started a campaign to gather donations of professional clothing and accessories, said NYPIRG Project Coordinator Lauren Caruso.
The group is posting flyers around campus and at downtown businesses, she said, and also plans to air public service announcements on the radio.
For now there are two sites where clothing will be collected until May 2 — there is a clothing rack outside NYPIRG’s office in Room 215 of Corey Union and one at The Blue Frog Coffeehouse at 64 Main St., Cortland.
The clothing would go to potential employees who cannot afford new business attire needed for job hunting and interviews, Caruso said.
She said normally it is the students who do the giving in many of the projects the group undertakes, for example with food or toy drives.
“In this case, the students may be the ones needing the clothing,” Caruso said, as they enter the work world.
Caruso said NYPIRG statewide is working on this project. She said locally the group has done clothing drives in the past, but this is the first time it is limited to professional clothing.
“We want it (the clothing) to be available free,” Caruso said, similar to what was available at Catholic Charities’ Career Closet.
Marie Walsh, executive director of Catholic Charities, said her agency is moving the Career Closet to another agency, the Employment Connection, located in the J.M. Murray Center on West Road. Caruso said the donated clothes would go to the Cortland Works Career Center’s Employment Connection.
She said dress pants and shirts for men are needed most.