Personal Safety on Campus: When “Low Risk” is NOT “No Risk”

March 6, 2014

Scott McGrath

One general personal safety issue — one could argue that it’s the central issue around protecting students, faculty and staff on any given day — is that colleges and universities confront personal safety threats that are not always urgent, critical, life-threatening events that require Public Safety or Emergency Management to intervene. How do we protect the community as it goes about the routine business of conducting ordinary campus life?

  • Navigating campus facilities and parking areas at all hours of the day and night
  • Transportation system safety (buses, trains, etc)
  • Risks in surrounding neighborhoods for off campus populations
  • Special features of the specific campus location
  • Potential medical complications from drug interactions or allergies
  • Social interactions that might turn dangerous:
    • Date rape and other forms of sexual violence (often occurring within a victim’s social circle)
    • Excessive drinking or partying
    • Dangerous celebrations after, e.g., sporting events
    • Hazing and bullying
    • Stalking and other threatening behavior directed at an individual

Keeping the campus safe is a formidable task when you consider that threats and risks are often not apparent until an individual’s risk escalate and require direct intervention from public safety. And in our campus communities, some sub-populations we serve are at higher risk than others and may have special vulnerabilities.

Personal safety technology can provide obvious benefits during the escalation – the idea of a panic button to reach out immediately to police and campus safety.  Media coverage of problems and events, even Clery Early Warnings themselves in some cases, generate awareness but also have a potential side-effect of making our communities “feel” less safe.

But “everyday risks” simmer below the attention of public safety until something more drastic occurs, and often campus safety does not have the staffing to watch over individuals who are going about the mission of the institution on a daily basis – living our lives, doing what we do.

Universities find they need a suite of safety programs to address the more amorphous risks that define the idea of “personal safety” in the campus environment. These include Clery warnings, safe walk programs, bluelight devices, community tip lines to involve the community, smartphone applications, cameras and surveillance equipment, and education programs that teach the community self-protection strategies.

Rave has lately been focusing on the friction points that deter people who don’t perceive themselves at a high risk level. One example is the use of location-aware personal contact messaging and precautionary timers in the Rave Guardian App Version. Many students already rely on roommates and close friends and family to be on the watch. Rave has focused on building a friction-free interface to update the user’s personal network with a convenient messaging interface with multimedia support.

Students and faculty can use these features to inform their personal networks about everyday situations that fall below the threshold of intervention from public safety – going to a party with friends, walking alone late at night, dating a new acquaintance, and similar events. Apps give the user power and control in hand via the ease of use of a modern smartphone interface provides, which in turn makes it easier to ask our social network to watch over us.

Our institutions certainly require comprehensive safety awareness, programs and technology to provide robust support for the community. These form the basis of preventive safety that tries to head off problems before they require police or other administrative attention.



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