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Thursday, Nov. 10, 2011 11:42 p.m.

Safety and security forum speaks to student concerns

Senior Associate Vice President for Safety and Security Darrell Darnell responded to recent concerns from the campus community about GW's reaction to emergencies in a forum at the Jack Morton Auditorium Thursday night. Avra Bossov | Hatchet Photographer

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Nadav Gavrielov.

The University’s top safety and security official sought to address recent concerns about GW’s response toward on- and off-campus emergencies in a forum at the Jack Morton Auditorium Thursday night.

The forum, led by Senior Associate Vice President for Safety and Security Darrell Darnell, included a question and answer format that allowed members of the GW community to voice their inquiries in-person and online as a way to better understand how the University’s emergency management team operates.

“What I’d like to do is talk about a few things that have come up as I have talked with students going around campus, students have emailed me, things we’ve heard over the last week or so quite frankly to really give you, I hope, a better understanding or a clearer understanding of why we do some of the things we do,” Darnell, who helped found the Center for Homeland Defense and Security before joining GW last year, said.

Beginning with an overview of safety and security at the University, Darnell outlined crucial programs like the emergency notification process, residence hall security, the threat assessment team, the 4-RIDE van service and the “see something say something” policy that encourages community members to report incidents to police.

In response to a question about the perceived overreaction among students to a shooting that occurred in Georgetown Halloween night, Darnell said he felt students reacted in a “natural” way “because we weren’t getting enough information out as quickly as we would have liked to.”

GW was slammed with criticism for waiting to send an alert out to the community after the shooting and the arrest of two armed suspects near campus. No suspects have been linked to the shooting that left a 17-year-old boy dead pending an ongoing investigation.

The first campus notification was sent more than an hour after the initial shots in Georgetown and a Crime Alert hit inboxes shortly after 1:30 a.m. University administrators said a technological glitch prevented the message from sending properly that night.

In the days following the shooting, GW launched a new alert system to send text messages directly to students, staff and faculty if there is an ongoing threat to campus.

“I think we have a system that’s more reliable, we think it’s faster,” Darnell said.

Besides the text message alert system, Darnell pointed out other methods of campus contact with the community, including desktop notifications, campus advisories and social networking.

He highlighted the use of Twitter as a means of disseminating information faster, adding that the University “can’t react sometimes as quickly as you can react on Twitter.”

“It’s usually a one-on-one transaction when you all are on Twitter. We’re trying to put out information to 25,000 people and with that comes a responsibility to not only put that information out in a timely manner but also make sure that that information is as accurate as it possibly can be,” he said.

Darnell was joined onstage by University Police Department Chief Kevin Hay, Director of the Office of Emergency Management George Nuñez, Director of the Office of Health and Safety William Flint and Dean of Students Peter Konwerski.

Hay touched on efforts to curb piggybacking at building entrances and the possibility of upgrading several blue lights on campus.

Throughout the forum, the group continually stressed the importance of community involvement in keeping the University safe.

“I have never been a part of any safety and security endeavor that’s been successful if the community wasn’t a part of that as well,” Darnell said. “And that’s really what tonight is about, is to solicit your feedback, to make you a part of this, to get your ideas, to get your suggestions because at the end of the day we’re only as safe and secure as all of us are being a part of this effort.”

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