Iowa State works for safer campus

Alissa Atkinson

Ames is presumably a safe place to reside. However, crime occurs in every city.

Gene Deisinger, commander of special operations for ISU Police, said much of the crime that takes place in Ames is alcohol- and property-related. ranked Ames 53 out of the 100 best places to live, with only three per 1,000 persons experiencing personal crime. However, Readers Digest ranked Iowa State 134 out of 135 in a recent study of the safest to least secure college campuses in the nation. Iowa State reported having zero dorms with cameras, zero full-time guards in residence halls, 48 percent of dorms with sprinkler systems, a partial mass emergency notification system and 31 full-time university police.

“What you need to know about the survey is that the questions were poorly designed, so we never completed it,” Deisinger said. “They included our survey anyway.”

But statistics can’t tell the full story of an individual’s safety.

Maria Giles, freshman in art and design, said she thinks Iowa State seems like a very safe campus.

“The campus is well lit and windows are often open,” Giles said. “If anything bad were to happen, I think someone would hear it or see it.”

Tamara Dunham, freshman in mathematics, agrees.

“There are always a lot of students walking around campus,” Dunham said.

She said she feels safe walking alone in the morning, but prefers to walk with a friend when possible. Dunham said she will always walk with a friend at night, when traveling more than a block.

The alert system designed to inform students of potentially dangerous situations on campus was put to test last spring.

Natalie Quenzer, junior in pre-advertising, was asleep at her home in West Des Moines on March 16, the night of an incident in Willow Hall. According to the department of public safety, Ames and ISU Police received a 911 call from witnesses who reported a man had displayed a handgun. Officers from ISU Police, Ames Police, the Story County Sheriff’s Office and the Iowa State Patrol responded to the scene and immediately began a search for the reported gunman.

It was at 1:40 a.m. when an ISU Alert was sent to students, faculty and staff. But it wasn’t until the next morning when Quenzer received the information.

“[When the alert was sent], my mom answered the phone because I was asleep,” Quenzer said. Receiving the news, Quenzer was very frightened, as she had friends living in Willow at the time of the incident.

Many students said they were discouraged by the near one-hour gap between the time the police received the call and the ISU alert was sent.

Since the incident at Willow Hall, the ISU alert system has been tweaked to get more rapid transfer of updated information on the ISU Web site. Deisinger said the community needs to work together to better understand the ISU alert system.

“During the Willow Hall incident we had many curious people calling to get more information,” Deisinger said. They were tying up all of the dispatchers and slowing down the progress. Witnesses or people involved with an emergency are encouraged to call the police.

However, Deising said those not directly involved with the situation should refer to the Web site for continued updates.

“The ISU alert system is an emergency notification system,” he said.

“It is to inform students, faculty and staff that an emergency situation occurred or still exists. There are 30,000 plus contacts within the ISU alert system. [In emergency situations] many people are concerned with timeliness. While timeliness is important; accurate, useful information is our priority.”

Iowa State has recently implemented many security resources to keep students safe.

“We have a safety escort, where employees of the department of public safety transport students around campus,” Deisinger said. “This summer an outdoor warning system with voice capability was implemented. In the event of an emergency the voice on the speaker could be heard outdoors all the way to Vet Med. The speakers can be heard inside of some buildings on campus. However, the intent was for the voice to be heard outside.

“[The voice] is meant to be heard outdoors. If it could be heard clearly everywhere inside, it wouldn’t be heard clearly outdoors,” Deisinger said.

Iowa State designed the Threat Assessment and Management Process in 1994, put in place to gather information, interview and assess situations with students when necessary.

“ISU’s process has been a model used by colleges all over the nation for years,” Deisinger said.

Safety tips from Gene Deisinger

1. Be aware of your surroundings.

2. Walk with a friend or colleague, if you can.

3. Trust your instincts — don’t be shy about calling the safety escort service if you feel uncomfortable in a situation.

4. If you get word of a potentially dangerous situation, pass it on to others.

5. Have emergency contact information on yourself.