A year after VTech, security improvement results mixed

by Beacon Staff • April 16, 2008

The Department of Public Safety hired nine new officers and invested in a host of equipment and technologies but the department has still failed to implement a new visitor sign-in system.,One-year after the slaying of 32 Virginia Tech University students by a classmate there, Emerson has experienced mixed results in bolstering security on campus.

The Department of Public Safety hired nine new officers and invested in a host of equipment and technologies but the department has still failed to implement a new visitor sign-in system.

Director of Public Safety George Noonan told The Beacon in January that the system would be up and running the following month, but in a recent interview Noonan said technical difficulties have kept it off-line.

Despite those struggles, the participation rate in Connect-Ed is unusally high. The system allows police to automatically alert the community of an emergency via phone call, text message and e-mail.

Approximately 70 percent of the Emerson Community has signed up for Connect-Ed, Noonan said-more than twice the 28 percent average for the 300-plus schools employing the same system across the country.

"We're pleased with the 70 percent," said David Rosen, vice president of public affairs. "We'll be making another push in the fall."

Noonan, who was promoted to his current post just two weeks before the tragedy in Blacksburg, Va., said Emerson officials were considering investing in an emergency communication system before news of the shooting dominated the national conversation.

The incident was just the stimulus the college needed, Noonan said.

"We moved it really quick after Virginia Tech," he said. "We would have been at fault if we didn't."

Rosen said that he is urging the registrar to make participation in Connect-Ed a required part of the college's registration process. According to Noonan, only a handful of schools in the country have made enrollment mandatory.

Talia Sawyer, a freshman, agreed with Rosen and said the benefits of the system far outweigh any privacy concerns. "It's not like they're sending you junk mail," the TV Production major said.

Noonan said he successfully tested the system last December. He estimated, however, that nearly 50 former students called or e-mailed him after they errantly received his message. If a person graduates or transfers, he said, they can call the Public Safety office and easily have their contact information removed.

But the college has struggled to repeat Connect-Ed's success with their latest investment, the EasyLobby Visitor Management System.

Noonan said "technological issues" have delayed the system's implementation. Installation was completed in the Little Building and Piano Row dormitories and the Public Safety office in February.

In January, The Beacon reported that the EasyLobby system will determine if a resident has a restraining order against a guest, if the guest is a registered sex offender or if the person is barred entrance due to previous behavior. If so, the word "banned" will appear on the information screen.

School officials would not release the cost of the system.

Broadcast journalism major Katie Eastman, who sits desk at Piano Row, said she looks forward to EasyLobby replacing a system which she said is often inefficient and unreliable.

"There are always so many mistakes in the written book," the freshman said. "And no one ever checks the 'banned' list."

Overall, Eastman said with all the improvements made by Public Safety over the last year, she feels very safe living on campus.

Another item on Noonan's campus security "Christmas list" was a more experienced police force. Noonan said in years past the ECPD was a stepping stone for officers who would move on to a city or state police force.

Since last April, the college has hired nine retired Boston Police officers, each with between 26 and 40 years of experience. The force now includes 21 officers and three full-time dispatchers.

Freshman Jay Lewis said he's glad to have seasoned officers instead of what Noonan said was predominantly a group of rookies.

"I think they have a better idea of how to handle what's thrown at them," the film major said.

But no matter the preventative measures, Noonan said faculty, staff and students need to take responsibility to prevent campus violence.

"Nobody at anytime can give you a 100 percent guarantee that this isn't going to happen at your school," he said.