Safety committee set to make changes

A new committee responsible for raising awareness of safety and mental health issues is in the final steps of implementing changes suggested by University President Steven Knapp.

These changes, which will add security cameras to University property, is in response to the shootings at Virginia Tech last year. Other measures will include making fire alarms more efficient, buying additional radios for the University Police Department.

“I think what (the task force) found is what we expected to find: that we do have many ‘best practices’ in place but have room to improve,” Knapp wrote in an e-mail.

Allocating University funds to implement the proposed changes is one of new committee’s responsibilities. The committee, made up of all senior-level GW administrators, will have some oversight regarding which of the task force’s many initiatives are implemented first .

“We’re working now on a draft charter and decision-making rules and those kinds of things,” said John Petrie, assistant vice president for public safety and emergency management. “Over the next couple of days we need to sort out exactly how funding will matter.”

An online safety and orientation course for new students is slated for the incoming freshman class of 2012, he said.

“It’s like an overall orientation to being associated with GW,” Petrie said. “That (information) is now captured in a variety of different places, different ways, and different qualities . what we want to do is put that into an online course so you’d be able to visit that if you had a question. Safety and security will be a major part of it, but that’s not all there is. It’s how to survive at GW as a functioning person.”

Students can already sign up for the GW Alert system, which provides student laptops with rapid notice of dangerous weather conditions or emergency situations, on the campus advisories Web site. Petrie said the University will likely require students install the software on their computers before arriving at GW next fall. Though GW Alert is currently not compatible with Apple computers, Petrie said his office is addressing the problem.

Many of the changes proposed by the other arm of Knapp’s presidential task force – the Committee on Mental Health and Violence Prevention – are still in the planning stages and will require work by the Safety and Security Planning Committee.

“We want to improve the communication and working relation between all entities of GW, the University, the (GW) Hospital, the medical faculty and how we can work together to support each other better,” said Linda Donnels, associate vice president and dean of students.

Donnels helped chair the Committee on Mental Health and Violence Prevention. She said the committees ideas for improving mental health standards at GW involve re-instating a grant for the counseling center for suicide prevention. This is the last year of the grant’s funding, which will last a total of three years. The new Safety and Security Planning Committee will deliberate what other changes the University will make to ensure mental health safety, Donnels said.

“There’s still work to be done and there’s now a greater awareness on it and a very high level of endorsement,” Petrie said. “This still puts it against the number of hours in a day and dollars in a budget. But it assigns a priority, which is the hardest thing to do.”

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