Does Fairfield’s Security Make the Grade?

The scene on the University of New Haven’s campus in early December 2013 has become the stuff of every college campus’ worst nightmare: A young adult parks his car in a lot across the street from campus, pulling handguns and ammunition from the car’s trunk and puts them in a backpack. Guns and ammunition concealed in a backpack, he is spotted by a passerby who calls the police. Within minutes, the campus is in lockdown.

With similar scenes occurring more frequently on Connecticut college campuses, most recently at Central Connecticut State University, the University of New Haven, and Yale University, campus safety procedures have risen to the top of schools’ priority lists in recent months.

Yet many Fairfield University students say they are virtually unaware of the school’s emergency procedures.

“I’ve never been informed about emergency procedures,” Danyelle Lepardo, ’17, said. “The only emergency procedures I’ve ever practiced are fire drills, but that’s the only thing I know of.”

Other colleges around Connecticut have updated the bottom banners of their websites to display safety information, including Central Connecticut State University and the University of New Haven.

However, Fairfield University’s emergency information is far less accessible.

Students at Fairfield have to choose from a multitude of links on the homepage, or even try a search entry, in order to find the school’s emergency procedures.

Todd Pelazza, Director of Fairfield University's Department of Public Safety (image courtesy of Fairfield University Website)

Todd Pelazza, Director of Fairfield University’s Department of Public Safety (image courtesy of Fairfield University Website)

Todd Pelazza, Director of the Department of Public Safety at Fairfield University, acknowledged that the school’s website should provide easier access to the Department of Public Safety’s emergency procedures so that they are more accessible to the student body.

“On our website, there is information, and on my.fairfield there is information, but students can’t really access my.fairfield to get to our information,” he said.

Despite this, Pelazza claims Fairfield is learning from the Central Connecticut State University and University of New Haven incidents to heighten safety on campus.

“One of the lessons learned is the need to regularly update the community on the situation at hand,” he said, explaining that this lesson reinforced procedures that they already have in place.

“One other lesson is to have a space large enough for a staging area outside for responders,” Pelazza said.

Pelazza also explained that Fairfield’s Public Safety Department is a part of the Connecticut chapter of IACLEA, the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, which meets regularly to discuss training topics and incidents that have occurred on college campuses.

Most recently, they have examined the incidents that occurred at Central Connecticut State University and the University of New Haven, finding a common theme in both cases.

“One of the common threads, though, is the insider threat,” he said, defining it as the possibility of a dangerous situation coming from someone within the school community.

Pelazza explained that it is hard to balance the amount of information the Department of Public Safety wants to give to the Fairfield community with the potential of a safety threat from someone inside the campus walls.

He says he often grapples with how to handle this balancing act, saying “if you give too many details to students, faculty, and staff, does that, then, inhibit your ability to respond effectively because they know your plan already?”

In effort to provide students with basic safety information, Pelazza said that on April 1, 2014, students should have been notified via the “Students 411” section of my.fairfield of emergency procedures being put up in the new portal.

Pelazza said that this section will contain “a lot of our generic emergency plans,” as well as locations of emergency phones throughout the campus. Students were not actually notified of this update until the release of the “Students 411” email on April 14.

This link put into my.fairfield directs students to the Department of Public Safety’s webpage on the university’s website. This page presents links to their contact information, as well as information on registering for the StagAlert notification system, which sends updates and emergency notifications to students, faculty, and staff.

Fairfield University's webpage dedicated to public safety information (screenshot of Fairfield University's website)

Fairfield University’s webpage dedicated to public safety information (screenshot of Fairfield University’s Website)

It takes four clicks to reach this information, starting by clicking on the my.fairfield button on the top of the homepage, signing into my.fairfield with a username and password, clicking the “Students 411” button on the left side of the page, and finally clicking a link entitled “Emergency Preparedness.”

The page also gives Fairfield University’s crime statistics as of 2012, as well as several printable documents containing emergency procedure information. There are also links to register for numerous safety training programs, including Rape Aggression Defense classes (R.A.D.), as well as CPR classes.

While all of the information accessible through the portal is important, freshman Jillian Lucia, like others on the campus, says she is not aware of how to access the information within my.fairfield.

“I did not know that at all,” Lucia said of my.fairfield’s recent launch of the safety information. “I still do not know how to access anything pertaining to procedures for DPS,” she said.

Pelazza says that the Department of Public Safety is planning to take more deliberate actions to create a safer campus in the future.

“One of the things we are always interested in is adding personnel, he said. “Right now we are at a staff of 18 officers, and we’ve had that number for some time now. So that is a focus.”

Pelazza is also concerned about increasing the amount of closed-circuit television cameras on campus, especially those focusing on the entrances to the campus.

“We have one currently at the main entrance but that currently is the only entrance that we have that on,” he said, explaining that the entrance behind freshman dorm Jogues Hall and the entrance to Fairfield Preparatory High School are currently unmonitored.

Pelazza also expects to add closed-circuit television cameras in housing facilities such as Claver, Kostka, and Gonzaga, as well as at the entrances to the upperclassmen townhouses and Jogues Hall. He hopes to receive funding for these projects through the Capital Budget in the beginning of July 2014.

Pelazza also hopes to further patrol open entrances with an increase in the use of physical barriers.

Fairfield University students have their own ideas of how to create a safer campus.

Freshman Danyelle Lepardo suggested that the officers from the Department of Public Safety give seminars in the dorms about safety issues.

“They should come to the dorms and talk about safety procedures like they do for alcohol awareness,” she said.

Lepardo echoed Pelazza’s goals of adding security to the entrances on campus, saying that “there should be someone sitting at the front gate at all times checking for Stag Cards and registering all cars that come on campus.”

In the future, Lepardo hopes that the Department of Public Safety educates students and faculty more about their safety procedures.

“I definitely think they should advertise it more especially in today’s world,” she said. “It’s scary and you never know what could happen. If they educated us more on safety procedures, I think it would make for a better and safer campus.”

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