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Caught off guard at BU

Dormant security
By PETER PIATETSKY  |  February 11, 2009


Police and machine-gun-toting SWAT teams swarmed through Boston University's College of Arts and Sciences building on February 4, looking for a man reported to be carrying around an ammunition magazine and a bullet. The man was never found, but BU's emergency-alert system kicked into full gear, immediately contacting the university's approximately 25,000 students, who received a text message telling them to avoid 705 Comm Ave. Then they got a phone call, then two more text messages, one more phone call, oh, and four e-mails. The calls are certainly annoying, especially if 100 phones go off simultaneously in a crowded lecture hall, but better safe than sorry.

Shockingly, while BU text-messaged and robo-called its students, it never alerted those most responsible for their safety: dormitory security guards. Joe Liberty, a guard at Myles Standish Hall — which houses 666 people — said he was "not aware of it [the security alert]," when he arrived for work that day. "We aren't allowed to use cell phones, have a computer, or watch TV in the booth," he said. Dorm security booths are not connected to a BU police intercom or the BU alert system, so without another means of communicating with the outside world, guards without cell phones — Liberty doesn't own one — have to find out about security threats by word of mouth. (In a strange bit of procedural doublespeak, BU forbids dorm guards who do have cell phones from using them on duty, but expects them to carry phones in order to receive alerts.)

The 2007 Virginia Tech shootings began in a residence hall, and student dorms are particularly vulnerable to such attacks, with hundreds of students packed into buildings with only a few exits. In Myles Standish Hall, there are five staircases and six exits, an adequate number, but they would likely be packed in the event of an emergency. Perhaps, instead of focusing its massive security apparatus on preventing boyfriends and girlfriends from visiting each other, BU should consider investing in a system to make sure that dorm guards who protect the lives of students are informed of a potential catastrophe.

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  Topics: News Features , Boston University, Cell Phones, Peter Piatetsky,  More more >
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