Regents Urge Action From Task Force Studying Alert Systems

RAPID CITY S.D.

Action is needed sooner rather than later, the Board of Regents has told a task force formed to find ways public universities can improve their emergency alert systems to quickly get information to students.

“This isn’t something we can study for two years,” regents President Harvey Jewett said last week when the board met in Rapid City. “If we’re doing nothing but holding meetings and something happens, we’ll look like idiots.”

The task force has been asked to possibly form a system-wide process for all schools to use.

Issues include cost, coordinating with community emergency officials and trying to rein in each school as they look for their own answers.

It’s not too late to find money for a new emergency alert system, Jewett said. “But, we have to have a number, and the sooner, the better,” he said.

Monte Kramer, the regents’ vice president for administrative services, said the task force could have a preliminary recommendation by the board’s December meeting.

Kramer said he’d like all institutions to work together and with the same companies for a system-wide approach rather than each school doing its own research.

“I’m trying to slow down everybody a bit and let the system catch up so we don’t have multiple systems,” which would cost more, he said. “This does not happen overnight. … But I realize we need to move expeditiously.”

“We need to have a plan in place … and we need to practice, practice, practice,” said Jim Shekleton, the board’s general counsel.

Kramer said, “We’ve got students in class, students out of class, students driving to class. Also, some faculty will not allow cell phones to be on in class for obvious reasons; in that event, we need sirens and radios in place.”

Identification of students that might pose a threat is another issue, said Shekleton. At Virginia Tech last spring, a student with a history of mental illness killed 32 people and wounded many more before killing himself.

“Students are not identified in a consistent fashion as being a threat,” Shekleton said.

He said a single contact person who handles all reports of disturbing behavior is necessary. “We’re reviewing agreements with local law enforcement to establish systematic action that would be consistent with student privacy rights,” he said.

Regent Terry Baloun wondered if the task force and the rest of the country is spending too much time analyzing research and data and not acting fast enough.

Kramer agreed some over-analyzing might be happening but but said expectations are high.

“People expect that we have systems in place to protect their family members, friends, etc.,” he said.

Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com



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