Security Measures in Place at PRCC

Published 8:33 pm Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The killings at Virginia Tech University happened several states away, but officials at Pearl River Community College recognize the threat of violence and say they have taken a proactive stance to prevent such an event at PRCC.

PRCC President Dr. William Lewis was out of town, but said in a phone interview Tuesday, “This morning, we are examining our policies and procedures, and are asking ourselves, ‘what if this happened on our campus?’”

In an interview Tuesday, Dean of Student Services Dr. Adam Breerwood, Chief of Campus Police Charles Kindja, and Assistant Chief of Campus Police Doug Rowell discussed security measures in place to help prevent a tragedy like the one at Virginia Tech, and the procedures to be followed if a tragedy did occur.

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“One thing we’ve done is tried to establish some more direct lines of communication over this past year,” said Breerwood. A lot of times students do not feel comfortable going directly to student services or campus police for fear of making an issue seem bigger than it really is. Now students have the option of going to other students in positions such as resident assistant or dorm president, he said. These students can then pass the information along to appropriate school officials. “We’ve gathered a lot of information that way,” Breerwood said.

Another measure that has been implemented in the last couple of years is the development of the campus security office into a fully certified campus police department.

“Our officers are allowed to carry weapons. They have full arrest authority. There’s just a lot of benefits to us now being a campus police department as opposed to a security office,” said Breerwood.

Gates have been put at all campus entrances except the one that goes directly by the campus police office, and those gates are locked every night. The one open entrance is manned by a campus police officer who checks everyone coming onto and leaving campus. Breerwood says this has been helpful in keeping people off campus who have no business there at night.

“We’ve also reorganized the housing situation, putting all the females in a central location,” said Rowell. The area of the women’s dorms, known as River Village, is fenced in to provide a safe and secure environment for the female students. “It’s not to keep (the women) in, but it’s to keep others out,” Rowell said.

A campus police building is also being built at River Village to provide nighttime security for the female students. Once it is completed, Breerwood says an officer will be stationed there nightly from 11 p.m. until 6 a.m.

“We do have a campus curfew at 1 o’clock where we don’t allow students or people to move around on campus,” said Kindja. “Till 11 o’clock, they can move around on campus as long as they are going someplace. They can’t just sit around in vehicles.”

Rowell said the first step to responding after the identification of a threat would be the activation of the emergency response system.

“From that point, area law enforcements are notified by dispatch,” Rowell said, including Poplarville Police Department, Pearl River County Sheriff’s Office, Mississippi Highway Patrol, and federal law enforcement if necessary. Emergency medical services also would be notified.

The next step would be campus lock down, which would include the locking of campus gates and shutting down buildings. Rowell said school faculty and staff are aware of the procedures to help get students to safe, secure zones. After lock down, law enforcement would locate the threat, secure the scene and perform rescue operations. After the situation is over, Rowell said, there would be faculty and staff on hand to provide counseling and debriefing.

Breerwood says the campus police will conduct drills on campus this summer to evaluate the school’s response plan and how well it works. He said drills like these are important because, “We have no time for any mistakes to be made.” He hopes to organize a full exercise that involves victims, shooters, and law enforcement and medical personnel from the local level all the way up to state level.

In spite of all the security measures, PRCC is still an open campus, Breerwood said, and he wants people to feel welcome to come on the campus.

“We are a community college … but when you have events like this (at Virginia Tech), it just makes us sure we’re on guard a little bit more,” he said.

What do students and faculty have to say about the shootings and the security measures at the school?

“It’s scary,” says freshman Kaylea Saucier, “but … I don’t feel like that would happen here.”

Freshman Lacey Thatcher agrees. “I feel safe here. I’m not worried too much about something like that happening here.”

“We have good security. We really do,” said Cindy Wells, a financial aid advisor at PRCC, “especially now that our security have been trained in skills as campus police.”