Clery Act betters campus safety

Communication with thousands of people proves more difficult than one might think, and university officials have been trying to perfect this communication process for years. While it might not be perfect yet, they have come a long way.

The Clery Act, officially known as the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, is a federal law requiring colleges and universities across the United States to maintain crime statistics and disclose information about crime on and around campus.

According to Sam Jennings II, dean of students, South Dakota State communicates with students, faculty and staff in a number of  ways.

Everbridge, Alertus, Jacks email and basic signs around campus are the means by which the university communicates.

“I think the communication system works well. If members of the community have access to what they need to know when they need it, then the system is functioning well,” Jennings said.

Everbridge, a campus alert system managed by the South Dakota Board of Regents, notifies students, faculty and staff to safety threats or severe weather emergencies.

It is a free service that will notify through several different means of communication. One can be notified by mobile phone, texting, business phone, home phone, campus assigned email, secondary email and secondary mobile phone.

New students and employees receive an email at the beginning of the semester regarding Everbridge. It is not required to register, but strongly suggested.

SDSU has combined Alertus, an emergency notification system, with Everbridge to adequately notify students during emergencies. Alertus, which is installed on all computers across campus, sends announcements to any computer with the program.

If students and faculty are not signed up with these two notification systems, they will still be notified of any campus emergencies. By default, everyone receives campus-related announcements on their Jacks email.

Notifications received on Alertus will only occur in emergency situations when immediate action is required.

“I don’t want a pop up of Alertus constantly on everyone’s computer and for people to just ignore it,” Jennings said. “We have to be cautious of overusing the system.”

According to Jennings, in non-emergency situations they may just put signs up. This would be for situations where a building is having maintenance repairs and only a few people will be affected.

Don Challis, assistant vice president for safety and security, defined two notifications that the university is required to send—an Emergency Notification and a Timely Warning.

An Emergency Notification requires immediate attention. It usually results in direct action from the University Police Department, and they determine the level of severity. This notification not only informs but also directs people of necessary actions depending on the situation.

A Timely Warning notifies students and faculty about the issue after it has already occurred and how to prevent and avoid similar crimes in the future. The Clery Act requires the information be issued as soon as the pertinent details are available. Once all of the facts of a criminal incident have been found, the warning will be sent out.

According to Challis, the timely warning is a little bit trickier to distinguish when it is the correct time to notify students.

“It’s harder and harder to administer all the time,” Challis said. “It [timely warning] gives you information so you can take steps to avoid being victimized…”

The university, according to Challis, also created a third level of communication that was not required by the Clery Act. This “other” notification, as they call it, is for weather reports and road closings.

“We are communicating more than we used to,” Challis said.

In summer months, there is a considerable decline in the number of people on campus. However, students and faculty will still be notified of any emergencies, whether they are on campus or hundreds of miles away.

“If they [students, faculty and staff] are here or not, we’ll tell them,” Challis said. “It is not just safety of students, but the faculty and staff too.”

Even though the university has installed a solid communication process with students and staff, there are still ways they can improve.

“We have function of technology using what we have to a degree. No matter what we do, we’ll be behind Twitter,” Jennings said.

The rise of social media has been both a positive and a negative aspect on communication.

Through social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, information can be gathered almost instantly. As soon as someone sends out a tweet or posts a picture on Instagram, the entire world can see it. In a way it is positive because more people are reached and are notified, however, the information is not always correct.

According to Jennings, students will tweet out information that is often times not correct. Other students see it and are lead to believe the university is holding back information and not notifying students.

As far as any changes to the communication process thus far, Jennings doesn’t foresee anything in the near future.

“Change is not here yet. Legislators are pushing to put more out there, but its just not here yet..” Jennings said. “Members of the SDSU community should feel free to seek out information as well as receive emergency alerts or advisory statements.  There are numerous ways members of the community can get information and the technology is continually evolving.”

If anyone has concerns or questions, Jennings advises students to contact his office or the UPD office.