PRCC beefs up security

Published 7:00 am Thursday, October 15, 2015

Recent college shootings have affected communities nationwide. Earlier this month, a gunman killed nine people and injured nine others before taking his own life at Umpqua Community College on Oct. 1. The following week, a freshman at Northern Arizona University opened fire on the college campus, killing one student and injuring three others on Oct. 9, according to the Associated Press. In light of the recent shootings, officials at Pearl River Community College have worked diligently on campus safety improvements such as campus lighting and more community safety education, said Adam Breerwood, vice president for Poplarville Campus and Hancock Center.

“As you can imagine, the safety and security of all of our campuses is on our minds every day,” Breerwood said.

PRCC has three campuses located in Poplarville, Hattiesburg and Waveland. The main campus in Poplarville houses eight dorms, where an estimated 800 students live.

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Breerwood said they’ve installed numerous safety features in and around the dorms, including peepholes, outdoor lighting and a card-based access control system outside the female dorms.

“Our next move will be to install those at the male dorms,” Breerwood said.

They’ve also installed new HD security cameras in and around the dorms, parking lots and other campus buildings. Breerwood said they plan to add more cameras in the future.

While safety features are essential, education is key, Breerwood said.

Every student living on campus is required to attend mandatory dorm meetings four times during the year. The topics discussed include campus safety, active shooter situations, domestic violence and campus sexual assault. During those meetings, students are also educated about all the safety resources the school provides. Breerwood said they’ve recently installed numerous signs in all the dorms displaying emergency contact information.

Technology has also played a role in improving campus safety.

All students have access to a mobile app called, Rave Guardian. The safety app allows students to check in with family, friends and campus police to ensure they are safe on campus.

The app offers a tool called the safety timer, which allows close family and friends to keep track of a student’s status and location if they’re heading somewhere unfamiliar or feel unsafe. Those contacts will be notified if the timer expires. If the student doesn’t check in, campus police will be notified, Breerwood said.

Recently, the school released a pilot program called EverFi, where students can complete interactive online modules that teach them how to respond to any emergency situation. Breerwood said the plan is to continue utilizing the program if students respond positively.

The school also has a mass notification system, called Wildcat LYNX, which sends out emergency notifications to electronic devices.

County officials are also actively searching for ways to keep the campus safe by learning how to respond efficiently to emergencies such as an active shooter scenario. In July, law enforcement, fire personnel and county officials participated in a mock emergency exercise led by PRCC Director of Public Safety Doug Rowell. Rowell led the emergency exercise by walking participants through a scenario where an active shooter threatened the campus of Pearl River Community College.

The goal of the meeting was to improve the county’s emergency response by identifying and fixing their shortcomings in relation to equipment, training or policy issues, Emergency Management Director and Fire Coordinator Danny Manley said in a previous story.

Breerwood said students, faculty and staff must learn to be prepared as well.

“We want to create a safe environment for them. Everyone has a responsibility, so we’re trying to help train them to help them recognize erratic behavior and notify us immediately, so we can assess it,” Breerwood said.

School officials plan to offer free safety awareness and self-defense training classes in the near future at the wellness center in Poplarville.

The school recently received a grant from the Community Oriented Policing Services to hire two additional campus police officers. All officers are equipped with body cameras and will be required to wear bulletproof vests in the near future, Breerwood said.

“We’re constantly training our faculty and the feedback has been great. We’re trying to change the culture of our campus to make it safer and that is very important for us,” Breerwood said.