College prep now includes safety


Published: Wednesday, October 1, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 2, 2008 at 12:29 a.m.

Consider it a sign of the times.

College students' preparation for a semester used to include figuring out which professors grade tough and which ones drone on during classroom lectures.

Since the 1999 massacre at Columbine High and the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting rampage, students now also have to think about how to protect themselves if a gunman targets their campus.

Santa Fe College is no exception to the potential for danger. In February, a student was arrested after being spotted with a gun in the school's cafeteria and the campus was locked down as a precaution. In April, a bomb threat led to a campus evacuation.

Now, the school has launched an awareness program with videos on the college Web site explaining what to do in the case of a shooter on campus, a bomb threat, a chemical or hazardous materials release, a fire or if a hurricane plows through.

Rachel Hunt, 23, a nursing student, said she did not expect instructions on barricading yourself in a classroom to be part of her college experience. But she said it is a legitimate safety concern.

"Our kids today, even in elementary school, face the same problems," Hunt said. "Kids pulling knives on each other. Kids pulling guns."

Manny Bravo, 20, a University of Florida student who takes some classes at Santa Fe, also said he did not think college would include preparations on how to stay safe if gunfire breaks out. But he said Columbine and Virginia Tech showed "it could happen anywhere."

"There are a lot of angry people out there who take out their anger with violence," Bravo said.

The emergency notification videos are posted on the Santa Fe College home page (www.santafe.cc.fl.us) under the link "emergency preparedness center." Scenes show students fleeing a campus walkway when they hear a gunshot. Some of the students take shelter behind a car and peer out to see if there is a shooter around.

In other scenes, staff and students take cover under desks, turn over tables to use them as shields and flip off the lights in a classroom so a shooter cannot see into the room.

There are instructions on calling 911, on when to evacuate and what part of a building to go to if there is a hazardous materials incident or severe weather, including a hurricane. A scene on a chemical release shows students taking off their shirts and stuffing them in the crack under a classroom door.

Santa Fe College Police Chief Daryl Johnston said the intent of the videos is to prepare students. Johnston said state committees and research at the University of Central Florida have focused on ways to improve campus emergency notification systems since 2004.

"The key to an emergency notification system is the behavior you want people to take ... here are some things you should think about," Johnston said.

The videos also summarize the campus' various notification tools, which include outdoor sirens, text message alerts, voicemail and e-mail warnings, and announcements sent out over speaker phones in campus offices.

On campus Wednesday, several students said they had not seen the videos. Michael Lundy, 19, said he hadn't signed up for emergency text messaging but liked the colleges' use of the tool.

"We need to prepare for a catastrophic event," Lundy said. "I'm glad they're going with the times. Technology's great."

Benjamin Weary, 19, gave school administration credit for the variety of ways now used to get the word out about how to deal with a dangerous situation on campus. But he said the February incident showed there is no way to fully secure an open campus.

"I didn't think I was going to have to deal with that (in college)," Weary said. "It made me feel unsafe at school. Anybody could bring anything on campus. It's not hard to bring something on campus."

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