Dobbins: SEMO ready as possible

Thursday, April 19, 2007
About 60 people gathered for a prayer vigil in front of Academic Hall at Southeast Missouri State University Wednesday morning in memory of the slain students at Virginia Tech. (Fred Lynch)

Southeast Missouri State University is about as prepared as it can be in the event a crisis such as the one Monday at Virginia Tech should arise, officials said Wednesday.

The campus is one of the safest in the country according to the university's crime statistics, university president Dr. Ken Dobbins said in a written release. The university has a four-pronged approach to protecting those on the premises at all times, he said.

First, an emergency preparedness manual provides the guidelines to cope with campus emergencies. An established emergency operations center is in place replete with satellite telephones in the event land lines go down. Building evacuation drills have been held on campus, and the emergency operations center has held "tabletop exercises" using a variety of mock scenarios to test its processes.

Second, Dobbins pointed to the university's Department of Public Safety, which is highly visible at Southeast and trained to handle all types of campus crises.

Department director Doug Richards said Wednesday the department operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week with 18 officers to meet the needs of 10,000 students.

All DPS officers have been trained in Active Shooter Training that all police officers in the state undertake, he said, which prepares police for terrorist, natural and criminal crises.

"My officers are required to undergo continuous ongoing training," he said.

Richards said officers have at least two years of police service before joining the department and the average length of tenure at the DPS is 12 years.

"We're doing everything in our power as police officers to ensure safety," he said.

The campus offers shuttles during late evening hours, has brightly lit corridors, emergency call boxes throughout the campus and closed-circuit television cameras both inside and outside of buildings.

"We are a gun-free campus," Richards added. "No firearms are permitted on campus anywhere with the exception of commissioned municipal, county and state officials."

In the event of a major incident, the department would call for assistance immediately.

Third in the university's preparedness plan is a multifaceted communications system that includes an outdoor speaker alert system attached to the university's strategically placed sirens used for severe weather alerts. E-mail, voice mail, the university Web site and a network of building coordinators and community advisers in the residence halls are in place for students, faculty and staff, Dobbins said.

Each campus building has emergency exit routes and a designated building coordinator responsible for implementing emergency evacuation plans and building coordinators prepared to assist individuals in evacuating buildings and in accounting for individuals in assembly areas.

Due to the magnitude of the Virginia Tech incident, the university's Center for Health and Counseling is currently offering free grief counseling and counseling support services for students, faculty and staff members, Dobbins said. Those needing counseling services should call the Center for Health and Counseling at 986-6191 for an appointment.

Southeast representative Ann Hayes said about 60 students attended a prayer vigil in front of Academic Hall Wednesday morning in memory of the slain students at Virginia Tech.

335-6611, extension 127

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