Campus technology, security officials strive to update safety practices

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The call box near the library glows blue more noticeably at night.

Although few emergencies occur at South Dakota State University, the Division of Technology and Security has been working to ensure campus is as safe as possible.

Vice President for Technology and Security Michael Adelaine said one of the most common emergencies reported are people getting stuck in elevators. The second most common situation is students under the influence of alcohol. 

To always be aware of emergencies, Adelaine said Facilities and Services and the University Police Department make sure emergency call boxes around campus are working.

“They’re a little bit older technology, and so it’s been a little bit [of work] to keep them up, but we’re working harder to make sure, if we’re going to have them, they need to be operational,” Adelaine said.

There were 29 calls from the boxes in 2016 and there have been 23 so far in 2017. According to Sgt. Bill Taylor at the University Police Department, only six of those calls were serious calls for help. 

Many calls occur near the preschool in Pugsley Hall, when children press the button, along with drunk students and students visiting campus pressing them to see what happens.

“As far as actual emergencies, it’s very rare,” Taylor said. 

Most real calls come from the Southeast parking lot, where students are far away from other students or a residence hall.

“When you press that button, it’s just like dialing 911,” Taylor said.

Despite false alarms, UPD does face some big emergencies. Adelaine said three years ago a student with an Airsoft gun was treated as an active shooter. Two years ago, an individual fleeing law enforcement crashed a vehicle containing weapons on campus.

Adelaine said UPD and other SDSU officials handled these emergencies with the correct protocol and action necessary to keep students safe. He also said students involved reacted in a responsible, appropriate manner. Both incidents were resolved without further incident.

UPD is the only accredited higher education police force in South Dakota. Over the summer, UPD worked with the Brookings Police Department, Brookings County Sheriff and South Dakota State Police for training. The training included tactical exercises involving active threats, critical incidents and mass casualty exercises.

According to Adeline, this was beneficial to get other first-responders familiar with SDSU campus and protocol in case of a real emergency.

SDSU received a grant to install the Alertus Desktop software on all university computers, which causes a pop-up to take over the screen in an emergency to warn students.

Jayme Trygstad, emergency management specialist, said this system is beneficial because it uses the internal infrastructure and doesn’t require an outside source to send information.

“We struggled with trying to find out what mechanism we can use to get that information out to students that are in class in the Rotunda, to help keep them safe if there is an emergency on campus,” Trygstad said.

The Everbridge alert system also automatically emails all SDSU students if there is an emergency or a severe weather alert that endangers students. People can edit profiles to have alerts sent as text messages or phone calls as well. The system will continue to contact the student until the alert is acknowledged.

Although UPD and the Division of Technology and Security are constantly preparing for emergencies, they can’t assist with an emergency unless students are calling them in, Adelaine said.

“Safety starts with the student doing the right things,” Adelaine said.