Sunday, July 10, 2011

A new focus on safety after violence in Arizona

     Security and safety is everyone's responsibility in a free society, where we maintain personal freedoms, while also looking out for the well being of others. The recent tragic shooting in Arizona can teach a lesson in security and personal empathy here at Valencia.

     Jared Loughner, the suspected Arizona gunman, recently attended Pima Community College, a campus smaller in size, but similar to Valencia in many ways. Procedures dealing with security are handled by Vice-president of Security and Safety, Tom Lopez, who oversees all four Valencia campuses. Lopez strongly believes when dealing with safety “nothing can happen without information, knowledge is power."

     For any on campus disturbances reports are filed with the campus dean, if needed students are removed from the area and taken to speak directly with the dean, or law enforcement if required. The dean of students will then form a review of the instance and individual on a case by case basis.

     If the disruptive person is not a student at Valencia or a guest they are asked to leave school grounds and can be forced off property by security. Lopez points out that “if an individual is a danger to themselves or anyone else Florida's 72 hour Baker Act law can be applied for any type of assessment through law enforcement or mental evaluation.”

     Politically motivated violence has been seen in Florida over the past few months alone, with death threats against former congressman Alan Grayson during his reelection campaign in November, and in December, the near tragic scene when the Panama City School Board meeting was held hostage by a deranged gunman. As a precaution any Congressperson or special guests attending events at Valencia receive elevated security protection as part of their visit.

     Several students at Valencia's Osceola campus personally encountered a disturbing individual yelling at everyone in the front parking area in late September. He was yelling anti religious rants that offended many students, some of whom threatened the disturbed person in response. This person than abruptly reached into a bag he was carrying and presented papers with wild incoherent rambled scribbling over the pages.

     Despite several threats and other actions this individual went on for several minutes without any regard for his personal safety. A disturbed person has the potential to cause harm to others when they have no regard for their own safety.

     Nathan Hicks, in charge of security at the Osceola campus, had no record of this event since it went unreported to his office, but stated “in the past the public Lynx buses that connect to all the campuses, have brought disruptive individuals that are then dealt with by security."

     There are programs in existence and in the works all focused on helping Valencia students remain safe and informed with help alert stations throughout all campuses, telephones with easy connect to security, and off duty police officers during peak hours that maintain radio connections with security and law enforcement dispatch. All of these systems and precaution have been in effect for several years at Valencia.

     "Valencia Alert" is a security and crisis alert system that sends important messages via e-mail, text message to mobile phones, and pagers. Alerts are sent in the event of any dangerous situations, or severe weather related warnings. Anyone interested can sign up and select which alert system they prefer at alert.valenciacc.edu

     There is also talk of a smart phone application in the future where students can send in alerts and warnings via text message. For now any student that feels a need to discuss disturbances or disturbing behavior can speak to any faculty member, security personnel, or anyone they feel comfortable with on campus. Reports are filed in the security office and individuals can remain anonymous.

     Reach out to any friend or classmates you believe are in a troubled emotional state. The suspected gunman in Tucson is a young former college student that used the same social media sites most young people use today. These websites are often used by individuals to reach out to others even when dealing with personal problems.
 
     Anyone that has personal issues that affect their life can be referred to mental health professionals. A small effort to reach out and help someone in need can have larger impacts and help avoid or prevent dangerous or harmful situations like the Tucson tragedy.

By James Tutten
info@jamestutten.com

(Published: Jan. 19, 2011 issue of "Valencia Voice" on page 2 and 5.)

(Above photo courtesy of Valencia College)

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