Safety communication options grow out of committee appointed by Dunn

by Cheryl Roland
| WMU News
Photo of a WMU Department of Public Safety police vehicle.

The committee recommended adding three tools to enhance WMU's safety communication practices.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—A number of new safety tools recommended by a Western Michigan University Safety Communications Committee created by President John M. Dunn are being unveiled this month.

The campuswide committee was appointed by Dunn after shootings in Kalamazoo on a single evening last February. The group worked to examine existing communication tools and potential additions that would allow the University to improve the way it advises students of imminent danger that is off campus but near the campus' borders. The committee forwarded its report and list of recommendations to Dunn late in the fall semester, and he asked the relevant campus offices to implement them immediately.

Enhancements to campus safety communication

  • A public safety, dedicated Twitter account, @wmupublicsafety, that will be used to send out advisory messageswhich are accessible even to people without a Twitter accountabout incidents that may occur in the vicinity of the campus community, where a large number of WMU students live, as WMU public safety officers become aware of such events.
  • New commercial software called Social Sentinel, purchased to continually scan social media and alert WMU officers to issues emerging outside their jurisdiction but that are potentially important to ensure the safety of members of the campus community within a defined geographic boundary;
  • A safety information website at wmudps.wmich.edu/safety-info.php that is a one-stop compilation of safety-related links and information, including links to campus safety services and links to area media's breaking news alerts. The safety page also will be added to the WMU Mobile App's next iteration.

People without a Twitter account can register to have campus safety advisory tweets sent to their mobile phones via text message. Twitter users can adjust their settings to receive push notifications on their phones whenever @wmupublicsafety posts a tweet. More information is included on the University's safety information website.

Safety communication practices under review

The three recommendations to add tools to the communication options were part of an overall examination of WMU's safety communication practices. The group making the assessment included students, faculty and staff as well as Kalamazoo community input.

"As a committee, we spent a lot of time looking at how information is gathered and disseminated by the multiple law enforcement agencies that have responsibility for the areas surrounding our campus," says Thomas Edmonds, committee chair, faculty member and retired Kalamazoo sheriff. "We wanted to see if there were new tools or processes that could be put in place, but we also realized that we cannot insulate campus community members from the threats they might face as as they move freely around neighboring communities and through different police jurisdictions."

Among values quickly adopted by the committee, Edmonds says, were the need to provide only credible and verified information for any communication method used and the desire to keep communication tools simple and available around the clock.

"It was important to us that the advisory process be simple and that those who access the information have a clear understanding of the nature of the communication and have reasonable expectations about what WMU can and will communicate," Edmonds says.

The committee adopted six categories of events that could become part of the new Twitter account designed to "push" an advisory safety message about off-campus incidents, as well as on-campus WMUAlert messages, to those subscribing.

"While those six categories may provide a guide, many times such information will not be available for dissemination until it is too late to constitute an effective warning," Edmonds says. The six categories are sexual assaults, incidents involving guns, armed robberies, suspicious deaths, home invasions and natural disasters.

A number of campus communication venues will be used to inform the community about the new Twitter option and urge them to "follow" the account to ensure they receive the latest safety information.

Additional committee recommendations

  • The existing WMUAlert system, which uses phone, email and text for timely warnings about threats on campus should continue to be used exclusively for on-campus incidents.
  • The campus should actively work to support the implementation of a countywide central dispatch system for all police, fire and emergency operations. Such a system, now under development, could provide accurate safety information to all county residents, including students, more quickly.A set of geographic guidelines outside the campus boundaries that could serve as a guide, but not a limit to the area monitored for emerging safety issues was drawn up by student members of the committee.  The coverage area includes the corridors around Michigan and Stadium avenues as well as Main Street—all heading west from the edge of campus to Drake Road.
  • Given the potential changes to dispatch and the addition of a new State Police alert system, the University should continue to carefully monitor the environment and adopt changes as needed.

For more news, arts and events, visit wmich.edu/news.