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College students urged to be safe

August 06, 2007|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN - School safety is part of the lesson plan for incoming college freshmen, even before classes begin.

The Associated Press reported that some colleges have added or augmented orientation sessions, expanding time devoted to campus safety.

Others, according to the AP, are explaining new mass text-message systems put in place to reach students and parents quickly in an emergency, such as the shooting spree at Virginia Tech.

Steve Hutzell of Hagerstown said the University of Maryland at College Park, where his son Steven is starting classes this month, has a similar alert system.

Hutzell said parents and students were told at an orientation session that the campus is open, but dormitories are secure and require key cards to get in.

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In the Tri-State area, Shepherd University in Jefferson County, W.Va., also has an access-card entry system built into its residence halls.

Last September, during a Labor Day break, a man shot and killed two of his sons, then himself, in a campus parking lot.

That was the nation's last on-campus fatal shooting until the deaths at Virginia Tech in April.

Shepherd officials said they were vigilant about security even before the triple shooting there.

They cited an armed 24-hour-a-day police department, public emergency call boxes, ample lighting, and trimmed branches and shrubs to improve sight distances.

Andrew Lechowicz of Hagerstown, who will attend Shepherd this year, said he considers Shepherdstown fairly safe.

Any problems on campus would be "nothing I wouldn't expect anywhere else," he said.

Shepherd has about 4,000 students. Lechowicz said he'd be more concerned at the University of Maryland, which is several times larger.

Hutzell said the College Park campus has good security measures in place, including officers, cameras and phone numbers for students to call for help.

Jillian Zeber of Hagerstown, who graduated this year from Saint James School, said she felt safe when she visited Tennessee's Vanderbilt University, which has about 11,000 students.

She said the campus is contained, separate from the city of Nashville. It has its own police force and lighted areas with security buttons to push for help.

In a story about campus security, The Associated Press reported that Binghamton University in upstate New York has a new campus bell tone to signal emergencies and can now flash messages to students on campus computers or cable television networks.

Delaware Valley College, near Philadelphia, can send emergency information to students who register their cell phone numbers and e-mail addresses, the AP reported.

Sometimes, Steve Hutzell said, safety boils down to using common sense, like not traveling alone.

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