One of the most pressing matters that all college students and their parents face upon the start of a new school year is the matter of safety. College can be a scary place, where our independence is often threatened by the possibility of a shooting, bomb threat, rape incident or any other potentially dangerous scenario. In light of the recent tragic event in our city, the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shooting, returning students have expressed concerns in regard to their safety.
Robert S. Reese, Deputy Police Chief of Public Safety here at the College, recognizes the concerns that have risen in light of the shooting. “The shooting put more light to what could happen,” he said. “It makes folks worried about emergency situations on and off campus. It was so egregious. Who would think something like that could happen?”
The chaos surrounding last semester’s bomb threat incident on campus combined now with the resultant fear from the shooting have caused students to question whether Public Safety has our protection under control. And according to Reese, they absolutely do. “We have always been looking at student’s safety,” he said, “not just since these two issues. We’ve always been here, but now folks are paying more attention.” Though the department has consistently handled the welfare of our students, Public Safety has improved in light of these events, completing officer trainings and summer orientations. At orientation, officers met with students and parents to cover everything from bike registration to safety on campus and in the residence halls.
Not only has Public Safety revved up their agenda, but President McConnell has also released remarks regarding campus safety. “Over the past few months,” he said, “a team of professionals across campus have been meeting to discuss improvements to our emergency response and protocols.” The College is currently taking the initiative to improve communication on campus. The Cougar Alert system appeared to fail last spring during the bomb threat. However, Reese is certain that it will improve.
CofC is working with the City of Charleston and the Charleston County Consolidated Dispatch to increase training as well as to form a more open and informative relationship. Safety information from any of these departments will show up on the same channels and be released to everyone who subscribes to that department. Reese referred to it as “interoperability” and said that the system will be in place by December. Public Safety will be directly connected to the Charleston County Sheriff’s office, the fire department and EMS, as well as those same departments in Mount Pleasant and North Charleston. “It will help when we have mass agencies responding to emergency situations,” Reese said.
Of course, with all the worries circulating campus, students are now more than ever conscience of what to do in the event of an emergency. However, Reese suggested that students may not be aware of all the tools that Public Safety has to offer. The department’s website offers a campus incident map, through which students can view recent crimes that occurred close to campus and decide the safest routes to travel. Also, the website offers a crime prevention page, sex offender registry, campus night map, active shooter preparedness and must-see videos regarding safety. Reese and the rest of the Public Safety team encourage students to utilize this resource and to get prepared. “We need students to take their personal safety into their own hands, and to take personal responsibility,” Reese said.
Though the department does everything they can to protect students, it is individual smart choices that keep us safe. Reese placed an emphasis on “crimes of opportunity”: crimes that involve victims who are taken advantage of because they fail to observe their surroundings. Reese stresses that students need to be aware of what is happening around them, especially at night. “The Cougar Shuttle,” he said, “is a very underused resource. We are pushing that students use this, but many are not aware of it.” The shuttle runs from 11:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m. every night of the week and can be reached at 888-960-2227.
This month is National Campus Safety Awareness Month — a nationwide event that our own Public Safety team is very excited about. Reese said is will be a “combined effort” between Cougar Counseling, Public Safety, Health Services, faculty and staff. The events scheduled throughout the month are meant to bring awareness to the safety risks associated with living on an urban college campus.
For more information regarding on-campus safety, please contact Robert S. Reese at email@example.com.