For students and their parents, safety at the University of South Florida Tampa campus is an understandable concern. With a population in excess of 65,000 students, faculty and staff, the campus is a city unto itself. Like a city, USF has its own police force to help keep members of the community safe.
Campus crime has been steadily decreasing, according to Lt. Meg Ross, public information officer with the USF Police Department.
“We have been experiencing a four-year crime reduction on campus,” Ross says. “Crime is down 45 percent since 2005, and in 2009, crime on the USF campus was down 19 percent from 2008.”
While that is welcome news for students, parents and USF administration, the university is increasing its efforts to prevent crime on campus and to keep students, faculty and staff safe. Events such as the tragic shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007 led to the establishment of the USF Division of Public Safety in 2008, in order to mitigate and prevent such occurrences at the campus. The programs and initiatives developed by the Division of Public Safety cover everything from campus-wide emergencies to individual safety.
The USF Emergency Notification System simultaneously employs six different methods of providing emergency information to the entire population of the USF Tampa campus. The methods include sirens and loudspeakers located throughout the campus; the Mo-Bull Messenger, which delivers text messages to cell phones; the USF website, a 1-800 hotline number; 120 digital display boards located in several campus buildings and e-mail notifications.
“The Virginia Tech shootings are a concern and an example of when the Emergency Notification System would be put into use,” Ross says. “Law enforcement works best when the community is involved. The more help we get from students, staff and faculty, the more we can solve crimes. With our current systems, if we are looking for a suspect, we will have 65,000 people with information about the suspect through the Mo-Bull Messenger system.
“However, the safety measures at USF are also useful in providing security for hurricane situations, or other major weather crises, chemical spills or any number of emergency situations,” Ross adds.
The USF Division of Public Safety has a pair of new safety initiatives for the 2010-2011 school year that are aimed at providing security for individuals.
Smart 911 allows students and other USF personnel to enter relevant information into the system to aid emergency responders if the individual dials 911. That information might include a photo ID, class schedule, office location, vehicle information or medical information.
“When dispatch receives a 911 call, all of the given information comes up on the screen,” Ross explains. “Most everyone has a cell phone and many have GPS applications, which can assist in locating the individual. If the person has a medical issue, such as diabetes or epilepsy, emergency responders could have that information available to them even if the person is unresponsive when help arrives.”
The Smart 911 program is voluntary, but Ross says that information an individual provides is protected.
“There is no way that anyone can go into the database and view the information,” she adds. “Nine-one-one operators cannot view the information unless the subscriber dials 911.”
The other new initiative, called Guardian, allows a cell phone to be used as a security device. The individual activates a precautionary timer when traveling on campus. If the person doesn’t cancel the timer after the set amount of time, university police are notified. “Guardian is a great protection device,” Ross says. “The cell phone will automatically dial 911 if the time is not cancelled in time. University police will get GPS coordinates if the cell provider offers that service. If the individual has signed up for Smart 911, the responders will have that information as well.”
Another security measure that is frequently used by students is the SAFE Team, a student organization that provides on-campus escorts between the hours of 6:30 p.m. and 2:30 a.m. According to Ross, the program is now under the supervision of the university police department. A student can call for an escort from one area of the campus to another or to have an escort wait with them until their ride arrives.
“The initiatives and programs of the USF Division of Public Safety provide some peace of mind for parents who are sending their children away from home for the first time, knowing that there are so many opportunities for students to be aware of information that may protect them and keep them safe,” Ross says.