WASHINGTON – Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., Monday sought answers to questions students, faculty, and parents around the country are asking in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech tragedy: how secure are college and university campuses and what can be done to make them more secure?
At a hearing entitled “Security on America’s College Campuses,” college administrators, campus public safety officials, and mental health counselors cited a number of measures being implemented to protect those who live, work, and study on college campuses, but reported that campus counseling is stretched thin and will require additional resources to adequately serve large university populations.
“I hope this hearing provides a measure of reassurance to students, faculty, and parents that college and university campuses are generally safe,” Lieberman said. “According to the testimony today, violence on campuses is a rare event. But, clearly, college administrators and campus public safety officials face serious challenges to ensure that their campuses are as prepared as they can be and should be. We certainly need to do more to provide professional mental health counseling to troubled students and improve prevention and outreach to the larger college or university community.”
Senator Collins said, “Colleges and universities defy easy answers for law-enforcement officials and first responders. Our college campuses are in many ways, attractive targets for those who intend to harm America. Although campus security is primarily a state, local, and institutional responsibility, we must look at it in a broader context of homeland security. And the federal government can play a role to help campuses identify best practices, to disseminate them, and to help with their implementation to assess their effectiveness. We can also work with our first responders to ensure effective responses to attacks.”
Witnesses said that while college campuses are relatively safe places, past experiences – such as the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the 1999 Columbine high school shootings, and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing – put them on notice that colleges, like other institutions, can easily become targets for both terrorist attacks and violent outbursts. They also called for improved communications systems to alert the campus community to problems, suggesting that new and old communication methods – such as text messaging and public address systems – be used to inform students, faculty and others during a disaster.
Witnesses included David Ward, President of the American Council on Education; W. Roger Webb, President of the University of Central Oklahoma; Steven J. Healy, President of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators at Princeton University; Russ Federman, Director of Counseling and Psychological Services at the University of Virginia; and Irwin Redlener, Director of National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University.