TNCC community members rely on one another for campus safety, security

Published: April 16, 2009

The Daily Press

Spotting and reaching out to the troubled folks around them is part of a two-pronged approach the Thomas Nelson Community College community is taking to campus security these days. Being prepared to handle problems when they do occur is the other.

Two years ago today, a disturbed Virginia Tech student killed 32 students and faculty on the Blacksburg campus before taking his own life. The gunman’s dark behavior prior to the incident had shown he was troubled. The response to the shootings prompted renewed emphasis on security and emergency alert systems, as well as mental health, on college campuses.

The tragedy was “a real eye opener for some of us” that suspicious behavior can’t be ignored, said Beverly Walker-Griffea, TNCC’s vice president for student affairs. “You really do have to address the problem and it is our responsibility.”

She hears more concerns about campus safety from faculty and staff than students, but sees overall increased vigilance.

Walker-Griffea’s office works with campus police to get a full picture of potential behavioral problems. Steps range from a conversation with the person to a referral to an off-campus agency for counseling.

“I think people are understanding now that you can’t just see something and not see it,” Walker-Griffea said. “Report it and follow up, so we can look at it and make sure that our campus does remain safe and secure. We are all a community here on this campus, and so we are only as safe as we see our brother and sister needing help and able to reach out and make sure that they get that help.”

Charles Nurnberger, TNCC’s vice president for finance and administration, oversees the campus police. He said that increased security using advanced technology can inform the campus community if an incident is ongoing, but catching it beforehand is just as important.

“If something is picked up in discussions around campus, things are looked at immediately,” he said. “There’s a level of cross-communication that’s been stepped up in a way that maybe didn’t exist prior to the Virginia Tech tragedy.”

A year and a half ago, TNCC implemented e2Campus, an emergency alert system that sends information campus-wide via e-mail and text message.

Later this month the college will switch to an Internet-based phone system, and the school has increased camera surveillance inside and out of its buildings, according to Nurnberger.

Catherine Szpindor, TNCC vice president for information and technology, said technology is playing a much larger role in alerting the campus community to an emergency.

There will now be phones in every classroom on the Hampton campus and the new James City County building that will open this summer. Emergency 911 software will give them added communication capabilities.

“If there is an emergency, the instructor can enter 911 on the phone and there will be an alert sent simultaneously to area police departments as well as our local on-campus police department,” Szpindor said. “Software will alert them as to the location of the E-911 call and for our campus police department, will pinpoint the exact room or area in which the call is coming from.”

The phones also can be used as an intercom for emergency announcements, and have LED screens to show short messages.

The same security measures on the Hampton campus will be found at the new Williamsburg campus, according to Provost William Travis.

“The way that the security system was set up was certainly taken into consideration as the building was designed,” Travis said. For instance the security office originally planned for the first floor was moved to the corner of the second floor, providing a view of both parking lots and all of the exterior, Travis said.

Security and emergency alert measures Thomas Nelson Community College

  • Chief Eddie Perry directs a fully-sworn campus police force
  • Camera surveillance
  • E2Campus for notifications via e-mail and text message
  • (by late April) Voice over Internet protocol for intercom and short data announcements

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