CAMPUS LIFE AND SAFETY AND SECURITY (CLASS) TASK FORCE 2008 fINAL Report
Executive Summary - Key Findings
Evaluation of Oklahoma’s preparedness for emergency situations on postsecondary campuses is a complex task to undertake. Since the Executive Order was issued on April 25, the CLASS Task Force has surveyed higher education and career technology institutions to better understand the current status of preparedness, counseling services, notification and response. The task force researched approaches taken at other institutions around the nation and developed a detailed response. A full accounting of the survey results is included in this report.
- Notification capabilities and practices vary widely throughout the state.
- Availability of accurate records and photographs needs improvement.
- Many facilities do not have adequate back-up generators.
- Most campuses have a crisis management team in place.
- Cooperation and planning with local law enforcement needs improvement.
- Most campuses have incident-reporting procedures.
- Overall, Oklahoma’s postsecondary institutions are significantly understaffed by mental health professionals.
- There is a widespread uncertainty concerning the application of federal and state privacy laws.
- Local and regional partnerships should be formed to identify potential funding sources and secure needed revenue.
- Information sharing should continue through the CLASS Web site, workshops and other means.
Emergency notification procedures vary from campus to campus, much as the enrollments, population diversities and settings vary. Some campuses employ voice messaging, e-mail alerts and even SMS text messaging for their emergency notification methods, while some still simply rely on a public address system. While certainly a universal notification method cannot be expected, a standard system of whom to contact and when should be in place at all institutions. In order for any method of notification to be successful, accurate contact records should be maintained for all students, as well as faculty and staff members. Ninety-three percent of institutions currently keep an employee roster that includes emergency contact numbers, and 63.5 percent have a photograph on file identifying each student. Given the crucial nature of this information, all institutions should have this information available.
The ability to notify persons already on campus of an emergency in progress is also in immediate need of upgrading. Only 58 percent of institutions report that communication is possible between the main office and all teaching areas.
For emergencies such as natural disasters, emergency generators are often relied on, but only 51.2 percent of campuses report having an emergency generator. Only 63 percent of institutions indicate that in the event of a power failure, their alarm and phone systems are still operational.
In recovering from an emergency event, whether natural or man-made, the first step in picking up the pieces is to return to business as usual. However, only 43 percent of postsecondary institutions have a business continuity of operations plan (BCOP). However, most institutions (94 percent) keep an up-to-date inventory of equipment and valuable property that would allow them to quickly assess damage and move forward.
The campus self-assessment survey results provide interesting insight into Oklahoma institutions’ general readiness for emergency response. As seen below, the only emergencies for which every campus has a plan in place are fire and tornado. Given recent natural disasters in Oklahoma, as well as the general political state of the nation, some of the statistics are cause for concern.
Percent of campuses that have a response plan in place
|General violence on campus||96.5%|
|Threat of terrorism||67.4%|
|Campus-sponsored mass transportation accident||44.7%|
On the more positive side, 90.7 percent of campuses have a crisis management team in place, and 84.2 percent of campuses evaluate their emergency operations plan annually.
Cooperation with local law enforcement is an excellent means of providing backup services in cases of emergency. However, only 79.1 percent of institutional emergency plans were developed in cooperation with local law enforcement and other emergency response agencies, and only 58 percent of institutions keep up-to-date blueprints on file with community police and/or fire fighters. So, in case of emergencies that do require off-campus assistance, the help that comes may not be sufficiently prepared.
Better training for emergency prevention and response should be a major priority for postsecondary educational institutions statewide. Recurring safety and security procedure training for students, faculty and staff, while conducted annually at around 80 percent of campuses, does not seem to be adequate. Annual training specifically on emergency response plans is only conducted at 59 percent of campuses, and only 26 percent of institutions train their faculty and staff annually in weapons detection, reporting and confrontation response.
Unlike the uncontrollable nature of natural disasters, violent acts by man may be prevented through appropriate counseling and the sharing of information. As in the case at Virginia Tech, if the shooter’s middle and high school counselors had shared information with college counselors and if the officers reporting the stalking incidences had access to that information, perhaps a referral to an appropriate mental health facility would have been possible.
In Oklahoma, 89.5 percent of surveyed institutions have incident reporting procedures established for disruptive incidents which take place on institution property. While that is an encouraging indicator, only 52.9 percent of institutions record disruptive or threatening incident reports into a database that is analyzed to identify recurring security problems. In fact, only about three-fourths of institutions (76.8 percent) maintain a list or database of students with special medical needs and/or those who require medications.
It should also be noted that Oklahoma’s postsecondary institutions are significantly understaffed by mental health professionals. Of the 85 higher education and career technology campuses responding to the counseling survey, only 77 percent reported having full-time mental health practitioners, and of those, 52 percent have only one or two practitioners. On-campus counseling services are not offered at 12.9 percent of campuses. While funding is almost certainly the main reason for this lack of sufficient professional staff, the coordination (by lower-cost support staff) of free services is also insufficient. Only 7.1 percent of campuses have active peer support groups or networks for students who have mental health problems, and only a few more (11.8 percent) have active peer support groups or networks for students with substance abuse problems. It is also concerning that only 40 percent of campuses advertise a crisis hotline phone number.
The shortage of trained counselors is evident by survey results which indicate that fewer than 50 percent of campuses felt “very prepared” for suicide ideation, gestures and attempts and critical incident response.
Laws and Policies
Any changes to existing laws, policies and practices must assure the safety of all persons on campus while balancing the privacy rights of students, faculty and staff. The existing laws and policies pertaining to the sharing of privileged information for students with mental or emotional health problems are extremely complex, with severe penalties for improper sharing. In almost every piece of legislation, there is a provision for sharing information in order to prevent or properly respond to an emergency, but there is a wide-spread misunderstanding of what constitutes an emergency.
Educators and educational staff members are often reluctant to disclose observations or request private information, due to the widespread perception that there are legal barriers to any disclosure. Our litigious society has caused persons with justifiable concerns to be willing to ignore those concerns in order to avoid censure or punishment.
The long-term solutions to meet the needs identified in this report are, in many cases, quite expensive and far beyond the current funding capacity of the institutions. There are a variety of potential funding sources, but given the high demand for financial resources, collaboration and ingenuity will be required. State funding sources should be requested only after grants, federal support and all other funding options are exhausted.
The subcommittee identified the need for collaboration and partnerships among state agencies, area businesses and local governments. This could allow for a sharing of expenses, reduce equipment costs and provide additional counseling services.
Training needs were identified as a potential area for funding requests. This training would include preparedness training, train-the-trainer programs and grant workshops. The subcommittee also emphasized the need for all postsecondary campuses to continue to share information through the CLASS Web site and other methods.
The full results of the survey are available in this document and should be the subject of continued review by interested parties. The survey findings were extremely informative for the task force subcommittees, and many of the recommendations in the full reports were based on them.