If Tacoma Community College has an incident on campus anything like Virginia Tech’s recent shootings, students could know there’s a problem almost instantly.
At least, the students who sign up for a new text-messaging program – called e2Campus – at the college would know.
“The students really use text-messaging,” said college spokesman Dan Small. “We could get the word to students in a classroom via text messaging, for instance, that we needed to lock down a building or we’ve had an incident. They could see it in a classroom, where they wouldn’t be answering phones.”
They’re not the only school in the area that’s noticed that the best way to get in touch with students might be with text messages.
The University of Washington Tacoma will also have a text-messaging emergency alert program in place by the fall, said spokesman Mike Wark. The University of Puget Sound will do the same, said spokeswoman Melissa Rohlfs.
After a deranged Virginia Tech student killed 32 people April 16 in the worst shooting in U.S. history, campuses across the country started questioning their own security measures.
TCC also is considering a campuswide alarm system, and surveillance cameras for high-traffic areas. Each building already has a safety officer with a walkie-talkie system for employees in different buildings to communicate during emergencies.
On May 22, TCC will be the host of a conference for local security agencies from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana to talk about protocol in emergency responses. The conference is sponsored by the Washington Association of Campus Law Enforcement.
The UWT might install flat-panel television screens to display emergency information, install more blue emergency phones on campus, and improve the campus lockdown system. Leaders will be asking for community opinions on the ideas in months to come.
Officials at the Virginia university have been criticized for not notifying students for more than two hours after Seung-Hui Cho shot his first two victims in a dormitory. Afterwards, he shot 30 more people in a classroom building.
“I think everybody has a heightened awareness now,” said TCC’s Kathryn Longfellow, vice president of administrative services, which includes the security department.
Longfellow agreed that officials on campuses would probably be more likely to err on the side of getting information out quickly, and students’ cell phones seemed like the best bet to get to them quickly.
TCC’s more than 20 buildings are spread across 75 acres on the West End campus, so college officials wanted a quick way to get information to everyone.
Between 70 percent and 90 percent of students carry cell phones, she said, so chances are that at least one student in each class would get a text message if there were an emergency.
TCC director of public safety Eddie Aubrey has been working to sign up students, faculty and staff.
On campus Tuesday, students said they liked the idea.
Miguel Ortiz, a 40-year-old human services major, said he was trying to join the network.
“It’s something that keeps our lives a little safer,” he said, cell phone in hand. “You never know what’s going to happen. We come here to educate ourselves and get a college education, and be safe while we do it.”
“We need to be aware of people’s actions,” said Ortiz, whose wife and two adult daughters also work or go to school on the campus. “We don’t know who’s going to snap when or why.”
Across campus, 18-year-old Fresh Start student Ian Wickman liked the idea, too.
Wickman, who’s working on his high school diploma at TCC, said he doesn’t have a cell phone, but most of his classmates do.
“Between classes, after classes, during class on vibrate, and bam, you know what’s going on,” Wickman said.
Karen Hucks: 253-597-8660