Apr 06 2008

A year after Virginia Tech, colleges ramp up security

from Chris Casey, The Tribune Virginia Tech was a wake-up call for colleges to pay closer attention to unusual behavior. Besides more student screening, last year's shooting spree in Blacksburg, Va., spurred campuses to upgrade and focus their emergency communication plans. Officials are embracing technology that alerts all corners of a sprawling campus should havoc erupt. The University of Colorado and Colorado State University installed Rave notification systems in the past year, and the University of Northern Colorado and Aims Community College are looking into similar systems. Just days after unveiling Rave last August, CU used the system on the first day of classes when a man stabbed student Michael Knorps outside the student center in Boulder. The system immediately sent text messages to subscribers' cell phones, telling them the center was shut down due to an emergency. "We had about 1,300 subscribers in a single day, and by the end of the week 5,000," said Bronson Hilliard, CU spokesman. "We now have more than 11,800 subscribers -- faculty, staff and students." The system doesn't need everyone signed on to be effective, he said, because even if just a portion of students get the alerts, word quickly spreads around campus. The alert was used just 24 hours after the Knorps stabbing when CU-Boulder had a large power failure. Hilliard said CU has found the Rave system best suited for large-scale safety threats. "One of the things that came out of Virginia Tech is there is no single communications medium that is a catch-all," he said. "A text message system is great, but you also need to have the ability to immediately darken your Web page" and use other emergency notification tools. CU has also doubled the capacity of emergency phone lines that carry alert messages and added training for police dispatchers, Hilliard said. "I think we're pretty similar to a lot of college campuses." The gunman at Virginia Tech killed 32 people on April 16, 2007. On Feb. 14, five students were killed and 18 wounded when a gunman burst into a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University. Marsi Liddell, Aims president, said fear rippled across campus after those events. "We had some requests from students and employees, especially in the wake of those incidents: 'What was Aims doing?' and 'How were we responding?'" she said. This summer, Aims will add 10 more emergency phones -- for a total of 13 -- on its Greeley campus, and plans to install more video monitors in buildings and parking lots. Last fall, Aims began partnering with the Weld County Sheriff's Office for patrols. Two officers patrol Aims' Greeley, downtown and Fort Lupton campuses on weekdays, while late-night hours and weekends continue to be staffed by contracted security guards. The new measures cost $66,000 more than what Aims previously spent on security. The college has also hired a consultant to do a threat assessment. Threat assessment teams Another trend since Virginia Tech is the formation of threat assessment teams, made up of a cross-section of campus and community members to regularly discuss security issues, as well as identify troubled students and staff. Virginia Tech added a group after the massacre last April, and the teams are now common on campuses, according to Mike Dorn, executive director of Safe Havens International, a Georgia-based campus safety firm. The strategy has been used in K-12 schools for a decade -- taking root after the Columbine tragedy -- but is now spreading to colleges, Dorn said. "There was a lot of resistance to that (in higher education) until Virginia Tech." He said the technique has averted dozens of planned K-12 school shootings and bombings, as well as planned university shootings across the nation. The concept of a multidisciplinary threat assessment team is simple, Dorn said. When a student, employee or other individual makes a threatening statement, a group of individuals, rather than a sole employee, administrator or police officer, carefully assesses the situation and determines a response. The idea is to respond to find "what resources can be brought to bear to help this individual," Dorn said. UNC in the past year expanded its threat assessment team to include faculty and staff as well as students, said Wendy Rich-Goldschmidt, UNC police chief. Also, UNC added another full-time officer this year (14 total) and upgraded its voice-over-Internet service, which sends immediate messages to buildings across campus. Starting last August, UNC began locking all doors, including the front doors, at residence halls. Security cards are needed for access at all hours, and all visitors must check in at the front desk. Also, the university encourages students, staff and faculty to program the UNC dispatcher number -- (970) 351-2245 -- into their cell phones, so they can instantly reach police in an emergency. "We are looking at other kinds of technologies, with the idea being some multi-layered approach to emergency communication," said Nate Haas, UNC spokesman. "That gets at that text-messaging component." Rich-Goldschmidt said her department constantly reviews ways to improve security beyond regular campus patrols and partnerships with other law enforcement agencies. In the past 18 months, the college has created a comprehensive emergency response team with subcommittees that work on "sight hardening" around campus. "We're looking at how we can tighten up vulnerabilities, whether it be from a cyber threat, a physical threat and active shooter threat, or a health and safety threat," she said. UNC has received more than a dozen bids from mass-notification system vendors, and hopes by fall to launch a text-based system. Some systems also allow instant voice mails to be left on cell phones. The cost to start up one vendor's system is about $24,000, Rich-Goldschmidt said. "At this point we are reviewing the requests for proposals, so it will be interesting to see what kind of bang for the buck we can get." UNC also launched in the past year a building coordinator program, she said, where each building has a point person who, in an emergency, disseminates health and safety information. Rachel Denler and Jessica Jones are car-less UNC students who walk everywhere on campus and either walk or take the bus to their off-campus apartments. "I've never really felt unsafe on campus here," said Denler, a sophomore. "It seems like a pretty secure place to me." Jones, a junior, said she felt secure when she lived in the dorms; her main concern then was theft. She likes the fact that UNC has emergency phones, illuminated by blue lights, around campus. "Knowing that's there is fine for me, because I'm a pretty fast runner," she said with a chuckle. Screening students An article in Campus Security Magazine said the availability of mental health services has increased on many campuses since Seung-hui Cho, a troubled student who had previously mentioned suicide in an e-mail, opened fire at Virginia Tech. For example: -- CU is paying closer attention to referring students with unusual or possibly dangerous behavior to counseling programs, said Brad Wiesley, CU Police spokesman. Police can only refer a person to a mental hold if it is a clear situation of immediate danger, he said. -- CSU hired a new triage coordinator position, which has been showcased at conferences. The coordinator screens all students for emotional/mental issues and those needing more immediate response. Less recently, but in the student-screening vein, UNC's counseling center Web site posted a link that allows anonymous messages about individuals who might pose a threat on campus. "That's a reporting system we've had for a couple years, and it's starting to take off a little more," Rich-Goldschmidt said. She was a patrol officer at UNC when the campus experienced its most frightening security breach in September 1996. A teenager, who had killed three friends in the Durango area, drove to Greeley where his ex-girlfriend lived in a residence hall. He entered McCowen Hall and held her and two other students hostage until police shot and killed the 18-year-old. "Technology has come a long way since that time," Rich-Goldschmidt said. "What we have available to us now vs. what we had then is night and day." UNC responded to the 1996 incident with an immediate lock-down of all side doors in the dorms, Rich-Goldschmidt said, but students after a few days complained they wanted the freedom to go in and out. Also at UNC, there are campus safety awareness programs -- 900 faculty and staff have taken emergency response classes in the past two years -- emergency telephones across campus, a campus police escort service, and plans for more video surveillance cameras in residence halls and parking lots. It wasn't until fall 2004 -- a year after a female student was stabbed in a dorm room by a man who previously threatened her life; she recovered from her injuries -- that UNC began locking all side doors to residence halls. All dorm rooms have door peep holes to allow students to see out. The new McCowen Hall being built will have the additional security of punch-in personal codes to get into rooms. "Obviously, when you're building this building in 2008, we wanted to make sure we weren't doing what we were doing (for security) in 1996 or '98," said Tobias Guzman, executive director of auxiliary and student services. Just as K-12 schools learned after Columbine, security is strengthened when more eyes are peeled and ears are tuned to potential threats. Now college campuses are, a year after Virginia Tech, more attuned to asking people to report anything unusual. "We kind of tend to live in a society where people don't want to get involved," Rich-Goldschmidt said. "So I think the more opportunities we provide for people to share what they've seen is all the better." The Associated Press and Tribune intern Brian Funk contributed to this report. TIMELINE OF SHOOTINGS ON U.S. COLLEGE CAMPUSES Fatal shootings that have occurred at U.S. colleges and universities over the past several decades: Feb. 14, 2008: Five students are killed and 18 wounded when a gunman attacks a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University. April 16, 2007: A gunman kills 32 people in a dorm and a classroom at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. Sept. 2, 2006: Douglas W. Pennington, 49, kills himself and his two sons, Logan P. Pennington, 26, and Benjamin M. Pennington, 24, during a visit to the campus of Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W.Va. Oct. 28, 2002: Failing University of Arizona Nursing College student and Gulf War veteran Robert Flores, 40, walks into an instructor's office and fatally shoots her. A few minutes later, armed with five guns, he enters one of his nursing classrooms and kills two more of his instructors before fatally shooting himself. Jan. 16, 2002: Graduate student Peter Odighizuwa, 42, recently dismissed from Virginia's Appalachian School of Law, returns to campus and kills the dean, a professor and a student before being tackled by students. The attack also wounds three female students. Aug. 28, 2000: James Easton Kelly, 36, a University of Arkansas graduate student recently dropped from a doctoral program after a decade of study, and John Locke, 67, the English professor overseeing his coursework, are shot to death in an apparent murder-suicide. Aug. 15, 1996: Frederick Martin Davidson, 36, a graduate engineering student at San Diego State, is defending his thesis before a faculty committee when he pulls out a handgun and kills three professors. Nov. 1, 1991: Gang Lu, 28, a graduate student in physics from China, reportedly upset because he was passed over for an academic honor, opens fire in two buildings on the University of Iowa campus. Five University of Iowa employees are killed, including four members of the Physics Department; two other people are wounded. The student fatally shoots himself. Aug. 1, 1966: Charles Whitman points a rifle from the observation deck of the University of Texas at Austin's Tower and begins shooting in a homicidal rampage that goes on for 96 minutes. Sixteen people are killed, including his wife and mother, who were shot the night before; 31 others are wounded. Add This Bookmark

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Apr 06 2008

Violence in home is factor at work

from Tracy Turner, The Columbus Dispatch Some of central Ohio's largest employers have banded together to get the word out about how domestic violence affects the workplace and what strategies employers can use to combat it. JPMorgan Chase, Limited Brands, Grange Insurance and Ohio State University are among more than 100 central Ohio employers that have implemented domestic-violence-prevention programs and policies to protect employees and promote a safe work environment. And they want other central Ohio businesses to do the same. "It's about the good of our business," said Melissa Ingwersen, president of Chase's Columbus market. Ingwersen, who spoke during a recent forum on workplace violence, said the company plans to roll out a prevention program for its 14,000 central Ohio workers this spring, with a goal of implementing the program companywide by the end of the year. "Requests for assistance by employees increased by 400 percent during a pilot program we tested at our Westerville site," she said. "And 87 percent of our employees said they'd use the program. "Clearly this is working for us and validates that this is the right thing to do." The Columbus Coalition Against Family Violence is spearheading the training. Early this year, the coalition led a forum on the subject at Limited Brands offices. The coalition offers employers training and materials at no cost, said Sheryl Clinger, who leads the group's business task force. The training helps employers craft policies that address how to recognize employees who are dealing with family violence and how to promote safety in the workplace, she said. "From a security standpoint, more employers are creating these policies to make sure their employees are safe and to help employees know there is a place where they can get information and help," Clinger said. "Too many times, employers or managers think they have to shoulder the issue, but their role is to get that person connected with an internal resource, like an employee-assistance program or outside resource. "It doesn't matter the size of your company, you can still do something." According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, domestic violence is a $5.9 billion issue in the workplace, when productivity, performance and medical costs are totaled. And it's fairly common, with 21 percent of adults who are employed full time having experienced it, according to a 2005 nationwide survey by the Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence, based in Bloomington, Ill. Limited Brands has trained more than 400 of its employees on its No Excuse for Abuse program, said Jane Ramsey, the company's vice president of human resources. She said the program's benefits are "countless." "Our associates' physical and emotional well-being is very important to us, and with 80 percent of our work force being women, this is just one way of how we can support our associates through education and provide them with the resources to take action to get help if necessary," Ramsey said. "While we know of several associates who have used the service, the beauty of the program is that they can seek help silently. We place (information) cards in all of our restrooms so they know how to get help without ever having to tell anyone at work." Judy Elliott, a director for Sanese Services who attended the forum, said her company plans to craft a domestic-violence-prevention policy for its 850 employees. "A safe workplace is a desire of the associates and the responsibility of the company to provide," she said, adding that the no-cost training offered by the coalition is "always a plus." Add This Bookmark

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Apr 05 2008

Defendants: No legal grounds for hazing claim

from Alisha Wyman, The Union Democrat The defendants in a civil case alleging hazing at the Columbia College Fire Department have filed documents questioning the legal grounds for the suit. A hearing was held Thursday for Superior Court Judge James Boscoe to rule on the defendants' challenges, but his decision was put off when the plaintiff had amended the original document listing the allegations. The defendants now have until May 15 to respond. The case centers around a former student firefighter who says he was hazed while working at the Columbia College Fire Department, also known as Station 79, from November 2006 to January 2007. Andrew Grafius filed a suit Nov. 21 that names Tuolumne County, Yosemite Community College District, Cal Fire and a number of individuals. His complaint alleges that, during his tenure, he endured constant harassment that culminated with a Jan. 15 off-campus party at which, he says, he was forced to drink excessive amounts of beer and water. He also says he was physically attacked by other firefighters. Other alleged hazing during his employment: having his food poisoned, being forced to perform excessive physical activities as punishment and having his gear tampered with. He maintains that he reported the hazing to his supervisors. The defendants "had a mandatory duty to furnish employment and a place of employment that is safe and healthful for its employees, which requires employers to deal with threats of violence in the workplace," documents say. But documents that the district, the county and Cal Fire have filed refute that they are responsible for the events, if they did, in fact, occur. Bart Jenks, deputy attorney general in Sacramento, wrote in a document he filed that the complaint doesn't give cause enough for the suit. Specifically, the plaintiff didn't justify charges of hazing, negligence, civil rights violations, assault and battery and invasion of privacy against Cal Fire in its complaint, he said. Documents filed on behalf of Yosemite Community College District deny the plaintiff's allegations that dangerous conditions existed at the fire department, therefore, there was nothing to which to warn the plaintiff. The district also denies that they were negligent. The county's attorneys added that the plaintiff assumed certain risks by joining the department. "The defendant owned no duty to the plaintiff not to increase the risks inherent in the alleged training activity," the document says. The plaintiff failed to exhaust all remedies he could have taken to resolve the situation, it says. The county asks that the judge dismiss the case and rule that the county be awarded costs of the suit. Add This Bookmark

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Apr 04 2008

WorkplaceViolenceNews.com

Part27.com is becoming WorkplaceViolenceNews.com and over the coming weekend you'll see our daily blog moving to WorkplaceViolenceNews.com. The new site will have a fresh look and your existing bookmarks/favorites and RSS feed will need to be updated. During the transition, some links may not work properly but please be patient as we make the changes that will improve our site. We are endeavoring to have the new site up and running for Monday, April 7th. As always, is you have any feedback lease post a comment. Add This Bookmark

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Apr 04 2008

Violence in the Workplace

from Todd Wozniak, QSR Magazine Knowing how to reduce the chance of violence in your store could protect you from potential liability. An October 2007 shooting at a Charlotte, North Carolina, quick-serve restaurant was a sobering reminder of the potential for violent crimes to occur in quick-service restaurants. During the incident, two store managers were gunned down by a disgruntled ex-employee who had been fired just weeks before. The Centers for Disease Control identified key traits of businesses prone to workplace violence and many relate to the restaurant industry. Some examples are contact with the public, exchange of money, working late at night, and working early morning hours. The Bureau of Justice Statistics notes that just two years ago, assaults and violent acts constituted 14 percent of all workplace fatalities, with homicide as the fourth leading cause of workplace fatalities. In addition to the inestimable cost in human life lost, employers incur enormous financial losses as an effect of workplace violence. The Workplace Violence Research Institute estimates that business owners nationwide lose $36 billion annually from the effects of workplace violence. Often, employers have not defined workplace violence, and are unsure of what role they should take. The Bureau of Labor Statistic’s 2005 Workplace Violence Prevention Report indicates that more than 70 percent of U.S. workplaces have no formal program or policy that addresses workplace violence. Workplace violence may consist of physical violence, verbal abuse, harassment, witnessing violence upon a co-worker, and threats, as well as spillover effects of domestic violence in employees’ personal lives. While employers are not required to guarantee an environment free from workplace violence, their failure to address the issue creates liability for incidents of violence. In fact, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), employers may have a legal obligation to provide their employees with a place of employment that is “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees.” In a workplace where the risk of violence is significant enough to be “recognized hazard,” OSHA requires the employer to take steps to minimize those risks. Failure to do so could result in an OSHA citation, legal claims for negligence, emotional distress, and law suits against breach of contract. Employers should take the following measures to help reduce hazards that are likely to encourage workplace violence: Diligent hiring and supervision: Conduct a criminal background check on applicants. Be certain, however, that the scope of the background check on the employee does not run against laws that protect employees’ privacy, such as the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, and that the interview not include impermissible questions about past drug and alcohol use and psychiatric conditions which may violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. Create a threat management team: Members can include professionals from human resources, the legal department, outside counsel, upper management, security, employee assistance program representatives, front line supervisors, and representative employees. Assess vulnerabilities on a regular basis: Starting places for security audits include workers’ compensation records, employee disciplinary files, OSHA reports, security reports, and personnel files. Adopt violence prevention policies: At all times, the policy should be sensitive to and protect the confidentiality of victims. In addition, the policy should include referrals to local resources for victims of violence. Conduct regular training: All employees should understand workplace violence principles, organizational policies, warning signs of violence, and proper response and neutralizing techniques. Upper management should receive additional training on threat management and security implementation. Fire respectfully: Conducting terminations with respect and dignity can decrease tensions at a very emotional point in the employee’s life. Naturally, if an employee already has exhibited violent tendencies, it is unwise to invite the employee in for an exit interview and he may need to be accompanied by security if returning to the building to gather personal belongings. Banning weapons: There are many pragmatic reasons for adopting a policy banning weapons in the workplace. A May 2005 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that workplaces where guns were permitted were five to seven times more likely to be the site of a workplace homicide. Add This Bookmark

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