Columbia University Earns Praise from Reader’s Digest for Keeping Students Safe

Magazine Conducts National Survey, Hails University's Security Efforts in Special Report

Office of the Executive Vice President
February 21, 2008

Columbia University is among the nation's leading schools in providing students with a safe environment, according to a national study conducted by Reader's Digest. Results of the study will appear in the magazine's March issue, scheduled to go on sale Feb. 19.

After administering surveys to 291 major U.S. colleges and universities and generating 135 responses, Readers Digest gave Columbia an "A" grade and No. 21 national ranking for its readiness to respond to campus-security threats. The University is one of nine "A"-grade recipients highlighted in a sidebar that will accompany the March issue's survey results and special report on campus safety. The Reader's Digest editors praise Columbia for staffing residence halls with security officers.

The article also commends the University for its extensive video-investigation system, well-crafted freshman orientation program, emergency response plan and mass-emergency notification system.

"I am thrilled that our public safety team has been recognized for its success at keeping the Columbia community safe," said Associate Vice President for Public Safety James McShane. "It is an awesome responsibility that we all take very seriously, so it is gratifying to have our hard work acknowledged."

Alison List, a program director for the advocacy group Security on Campus, Inc., who advised Reader's Digest researchers during the development phase of the survey, said that earning an "A" "is a good indicator that Columbia is being proactive."

The survey used a basic algorithm and 19 security-related variables to create a Safety Preparedness Index, which led to each school's ranking. The methodology was co-developed by Security on Campus and Matthew E. Kahn, a professor at UCLA who provided statistical analyses. The judges of the survey also considered the most up-to-date campus-crime statistics for each school, which are collected annually by the U.S. Department of Education.

A Host of Upgrades
The positive report from the Reader's Digest survey reflects significant upgrades implemented this academic year by the University's Department of Public Safety.

Since the end of the fall semester, the department has been operating inside a renovated command center, with enhanced computer systems and two giant monitors capable of projecting multiple video images, captured and transmitted through the department's extensive video network. The command center soon will be equipped with a high-tech Computer Assisted Dispatch (CAD) and records-management system, which will computerize all dispatch functions and facilitate the preparation of incident reports and data and crime analyses.

Once CAD is fully functioning, emergency calls received by the command center will immediately be entered into the system, where they can be easily prioritized and monitored.

In order to operate the new system, the public safety department has hired five additional supervisors.

The department also has made several upgrades to its escort service, including the addition of an off-campus patrol car designated solely for transporting students and staff, running from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., seven days a week. The new car, added last December, supplements an existing point-to-point shuttle bus, which runs from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m.

In addition, the department has beefed up its stable of foot escorts, extended their service time by an extra hour - to begin at 7 p.m. - and rezoned the campus map, allowing foot escorts to focus on specific locations. The department also this month implemented new dispatch policies, in response to student requests. Students now receive ETAs from escort dispatchers, and their callback numbers are recorded and used in cases of delay.

Certain investigative initiatives undertaken by the public safety department have led to arrests. This month, two campus thieves were apprehended after being identified through an intensive review of recorded video. The department's video network now includes approximately 1,000 cameras scattered across the University's three campuses.
In order to remain proactive, the department last fall rolled out an emergency text-messaging system, purchased from the California communications company MIR3. To date, more than 8,000 students have signed onto the system. Faculty and staff will begin signing up this spring.