New school year brings additions to campus safety



Lee Betancourt

While the Department of Public Safety transitions after the retirement of its director, Jeffrey Horton, last April, it continues to make changes in an attempt to show its commitment to student safety.

Currently holding the head position in the department is Interim Director of Public Safety Tom Harmon, who has overseen the replacement of emergency phones on campus and has helped put the NOVA Alert system into place since his start at Villanova five months ago.

Harmon, who last spring helped to conduct an external review of the department, came out of retirement to “fill in for a few months.” He previously served as the director of Public Safety at Penn State University.

Despite the difference in size between Penn State and Villanova, “the issues aren’t much different,” he said.

The Department of Public Safety will announce a decision on a new director soon, Harmon said.

Students returning from summer will see that the department has made a lot of changes since May. Public Safety and the University replaced 13 of the 24 campus emergency phones. The previous phones were old and hard to find replacement parts for, Harmon said.

The new phones, like the old ones, are cellular, but instead of running on solar power, they run on A/C power from light poles, a more dependable source of power. Now the department has started work to get emergency phone signs up and to remove the old phones.

In a combined effort, Public Safety, the Office of University Communication, UNIT, Facilities Management, Residence Life, the Finance Office and the administration’s crisis management team launched NOVA Alert, an emergency and weather notification service this year.

NOVA Alerts will be sent to any cellphone, e-mail address, smartphone/PDA or pager a member of the Villanova community registers.

“This does not replace other communication methods,” Villanova Chief Information Officer Steve Fugale said. “This will serve to warn, give basic instructions and refer students to other people.”

Although the interest in systems such as NOVA Alert spiked after the Virginia Tech tragedy in April, Fugale said that Villanova looked into the technology after the off-campus shooter incident in December.

“We looked particularly into text messaging because students utilize it so heavily,” Fugale said. “Everyone has their cell phone with them most all of the time, but not everyone may be in front of a computer.”

Still, Fugale stressed that the new NOVA Alert system is a fourth component in the University system of communication after Villanova’s Web site, e-mail system and faculty and staff phone system.

The system will be strictly limited to emergencies; only certain departments can put up and send out the emergency and weather-related messages.

Everything ran smoothly in test trials throughout the month of July, Fugale said.

“It took virtually seconds,” he said. “Text messaging delivered the message the fastest of all the systems, although granted it wasn’t for 15,000 people because we conducted our tests on a smaller population.”

Harmon said that between funding the new emergency phones and alert system, Villanova is showing its continuing commitment to ensuring the safety of students.

This commitment is especially important given the recent campus safety issues around the nation especially at Virginia Tech in April; with December’s near-campus shooter incident, Villanova is no exception.

“It’s a particularly challenging time to be involved in campus security and safety issues,” Harmon said. “It was a high-profile issue even before the Virginia Tech tragedy, but certainly today it’s a subject of a lot of concern with student, parent and media interest.”