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In an emergency on campus, students and staff members at Columbus State Community College will be able to turn to their cell phones.

Under the new service, to be made available this month, they can immediately connect with campus police with the push of a speed-dial button. College security personnel also can use the GPS on cell phones to track students walking through the campus and make sure they reach their destinations safely. Those who see fights or other crises can record videos or send text messages to police.

“This system gives people a much stronger sense of safety and security,” said John Nestor, director of public safety.

Columbus State President David Harrison shared details of the alert system and other efforts to bolster campus safety in a State of the College speech last month.

The rape of a student on the Downtown campus in September was a stark reminder of the need for safety improvements, Harrison said.

“We would be foolish if we didn’t use that tragedy as a way to get better, but also as a way to, at least, let you know that things have already been done and what’s going on now to make this campus safe,” he told the more than 800 faculty and staff members who attended his speech.

The college has spent about four years developing the upgrades and is to begin testing them next week.

The board of trustees also has approved money to add two police officers, two dispatchers and one safety official; however, those positions are temporary, depending on the college’s future budget. About 16 outdoor cameras were added this year to better supervise parking lots and other high-traffic areas. That gives the campus 112 cameras, and more are proposed.

Many colleges, including Ohio State University and Ohio Dominican University, will provide students with campus escorts and have emergency phones linked directly to campus security. Columbus State also provides those measures but wanted to do more, Nestor said.

One feature of the new system, which will cost $65,000 annually, allows students to alert campus security via their cell phones before they begin walking to a destination. The alert activates a timer on the cell phone and allows campus security to track the students via GPS.

Once they reach their destination, they deactivate the timer. If the timer expires, campus police will call to make sure the student is OK. If no one answers, police will know where to look because of the GPS.

By signing on to the alert system, students can submit profile information such as health needs, class schedules and photos – all of which help police when responding to an emergency, Nestor said.

Still, the new system does not replace 911 and the security escorts who are available to all students while they are on campus, including the new Delaware branch, he said.

Amber Mihal, 17, doesn’t usually worry about walking across campus because she carpools with her boyfriend. But walking to the parking lot at night can be scary, and the college’s new alert system sounds helpful, she said.

“If I’m concerned heading out to my car, I can let someone know, and they can make sure I get to my car OK rather than trying to call someone and wait for them so they can walk me to my car.”

cboss@dispatch.com

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