Bay Area schools attend to security

Virginia attack isn't first such crisis to alert administrators

Matthew B. Stannard and Tanya Schevitz, Chronicle Staff Writers

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Monday's massacre at Virginia Tech was a wake-up call for campus security forces across the nation -- but hardly their first, several college and university officials said.

The Columbine High School shootings of 1999 were a wake-up call, too. So were local atrocities, such as a hostage crisis at a bar one block from UC Berkeley in 1990 and the 2001 arrest of a De Anza Community College student found with an arsenal of bombs and guns and a detailed plan for an attack on the campus.

Those incidents, and others like them, led to changes such as the creation of a district police force at Foothill-De Anza Community College District, a tactical response team at UC Berkeley and new response plans across the region for dealing with shooters on a rampage.

"We're a far sight better than we were in 1999," Ron Levine, chief of Foothill-De Anza Community College District Police, said Monday.

"The awareness level has come up considerably," he said. "A lot of emphasis was placed on K through 12, and I think a lot of work remains to be done in two- and four-year institutions."

There remains debate about the proper role of law enforcement on campuses, Levine and other campus law enforcement officers said.

"The whole idea of the college is for the education of the student," Levine said. "It's not meant to be an oppressive police state. But an active law enforcement presence on campus is a reality today when it may not have been in the past."

An armed campus police force is a necessary response to the new reality, Levine said, although some campuses -- such as City College of San Francisco -- have declined to go the route of an armed force.

"It reflects a basic commitment and understanding that we are very anti-violence, anti-gun and anti-war," said City College Chancellor Philip Day Jr. "There is a preferred mode of dealing with students and faculty, and those methods City College Police Chief Carl Koehler said the policy leaves his officers at a disadvantage.

"When something happens, minutes are very important, and we do rely on the San Francisco Police Department," Koehler said. "They are awesome, but they have their issues of staffing."

The Virginia Tech probably will bring up the question again, along with other elements of crisis planning.

University of California President Robert Dynes said the UC campuses will all review their safety programs, and state Sen. Jack Scott, D-Pasadena, chairman of the state Senate Education Committee, called for hearings on college security plans and training.

Such reviews are a common response to crises, said Chris McGoey, a security consultant with offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles. But in the final analysis, he said, there is not much that officials on an open campus can do to guarantee that determined killers are kept away.

One estimate by the School Violence Resource Center, an organization funded by the U.S. Justice Department, suggests that the odds of a student being slain on campus are 1 in 1.7 million -- making that a less likely way of dying than being hit by lightning.

"Realistically, after this dies down, the campuses are not going to run out and barricade all their campuses. ... Statistically, it doesn't need to happen," said McGoey, who has consulted with a number of schools on security. "Everything that is suggested to be done costs money and takes time, and schools and universities for the most part do not have the money, do not have the time."

Several campus law enforcement officials, however, said they want to do more in at least one area: campus communication.

Virginia Tech officials activated an automated voice-mail and e-mail alert system after the first shootings Monday, although some students complained that they heard nothing until the gunman was in the midst of killing people in an engineering building.

Locally, different campuses use different techniques to maintain communication. UC Berkeley has a siren, campus PA system and computer alert system for emergencies; CSU East Bay has a network of emergency volunteers, an e-mail alert system and a community policing program.

Some advocates argue that campuses need to move faster to embrace the high-tech communications methods preferred by their students.

Katherine Andriole, assistant program director for Security on Campus Inc., a Pennsylvania nonprofit, said all campuses should implement a cell phone text message alert system.

"With the technology we have now, it is absolutely the quickest way to reach every student," Andriole said. "You have to get every student. You have to get everyone in safe location. Nowadays, students always have their cell phones. If you do e-mail, not everyone is going to check, and you are going to have kids who walk off to class."

One outfit providing a student text message alert system is e2Campus, a service by Omnilert, LLC, a Virginia company that allows universities to send a variety of routine and emergency notices to students' cell phones, said Nick Gustavson, chief technical officer of the firm's parent company.

Most of e2Campus' 30 university clients are on the East Coast, although Foothill-De Anza Police Chief Levine said he has a meeting scheduled this week to look at bringing the program to his campuses.

"All of the chiefs and security directors are aware of the potential for this happening on each of the campuses," Levine said. "We try to balance the needs of the academic world and the needs of law enforcement. Some colleges are more enlightened than others."

This article appeared on page A - 9 of the San Francisco Chronicle