Police chief outlines campus security efforts



UC Police Chief Victoria Harrison discusses campus security.
Joanne Connelly photo

07 November 2001 |

Since Sept. 11, campus security has been reinforced, and additional measures are in discussion. Campus police chief Victoria Harrison discussed some of the activities in progress in a recent conversation with Berkeleyan reporter D. Lyn Hunter.

Have there been changes in campus
security procedures and plans since Sept. 11?

We have reviewed and are continuing to review the security practices in place, and are also looking at emergency preparedness and planning in light of terrorist and biohazard threats. We are acting responsibly and have taken appropriate measures. For security reasons, I can’t go into everything we’ve done; it wouldn’t be wise. But we have assessed campus security and have made some adjustments to strengthen it.

One of the more obvious changes is in our use of vehicle poles on campus. We’ve had the current system of removable poles in place for years as an aid in keeping the campus secure. Recently, because of all the campus construction, this system wasn’t working as effectively as originally intended. For the convenience of work crews, poles would be removed but not replaced, leaving the campus vulnerable to unauthorized vehicles. To stop this, we’ve added new barriers in certain locations, limited the entrances where barriers can be removed and are talking with departments about the proper use of barriers.

This is just one example of the need to shift the way we’ve traditionally looked at things. Prior to Sept. 11, the barrier poles were probably perceived as being an inconvenience to people trying to get from point A to point B. But we’re trying to shift that thinking so that people understand this is part of the security system on campus. So, if someone takes a pole out and doesn’t replace it, it’s a breach of everyone’s security. We need to start looking at ourselves as members of a community and make sure we’re each doing our part to provide a comfortable level of security. Unfortunately, there is often a tradeoff of reducing convenience to increase security.

How is the campus reviewing security and improving security practices?
The chancellor has asked the police department to take the lead in securing the campus. We’ve consulted with a number of campus constituencies — Environmental Health and Safety, University Health Services, Mail Services, Physical Plant–Campus Services, the Office of Emergency Preparedness, the Council of Deans, the Chancellor’s Staff Advisory Committee and several other groups — to review the overall security of the campus and make recommendations on the steps we think are reasonable precautions to take.

For example, we’re looking at limiting vehicle access and “closing” the campus after a certain hour at night, things a lot of other campuses are doing. These are issues we should at least consider. It doesn’t mean we will decide to implement them, but it would be irresponsible not to look at the options in light of everything that’s happened. That’s our business. These are things we could do. Ninety percent of the ideas may not be implemented, but at least we can say we thought about them and made informed decisions.

When the federal government asks law enforcement to “ramp up” for potential terrorist threats, what does that mean for your department?

Law enforcement, as well as everyone else, is being asked to be vigilant, to look at things more closely, with a different experience base than we had prior to Sept. 11. Certainly we in the law enforcement community have a very special responsibility in this. I believe that UCPD has always been exceptionally vigilant, but we have to take it to the next level.

Part of ramping up means improving our coordination with other agencies. We are well networked with a number of officials and agencies that are all dealing with terrorism, including the State Office of Emergency Services and a countywide task force on terrorism. We also have regular meetings with the FBI. Locally, we have a smaller working group composed of City of Berkeley police and fire departments, the university and Lawrence Berkeley Lab. Many agencies come into play if an incident occurs. We are working together to establish a protocol so that we are all clear on what role each unit plays.

Does the campus have a response plan in place for incidents related to such threats as biohazards?
Yes, we are already in a very good position because of the emergency preparedness and readiness that the campus has established around earthquakes and other natural disasters. Much of what we’re planning now is built on that. Clearly it has to be tweaked here and there for the specifics associated with bioterrorism. We are receiving more and more calls regarding suspicious mail. As we address these concerns, we’re studying any gaps in our response and fixing them. We’re working on the follow-up to the initial response, our coordination with labs and other agencies that come into play once a situation has been responded to.

We learned some valuable lessons from a recent anthrax scare at the Haas School of Business. While it was disruptive and stressful for those involved, it gave us an opportunity to look at our coordination and response protocols — though I’d rather not learn these kinds of things at the expense of the campus community. However, drills are something we need to contemplate. As we establish new protocols, we need to test them. That may be something we organize in the coming months.

What can individuals do to make the campus safer and more secure?
Be more vigilant. Pay attention to things that seem out of the ordinary. Take the time to assess how one’s actions might affect the rest of the campus. If you see something that doesn’t seem right, take the initiative to pick up the phone and call the police. We all go through some doubt when we see something out of the ordinary, wondering whether we should call or not. Our minds engage in forming rationalizations around it. But listen to your instincts. We’d rather respond to hundreds of calls that end up being nothing than miss the one that really counts.

Also, when entering a locked building, especially after hours, and a person comes up behind you and wants to slide in, do not let that person in unless you know for a fact he or she should have access. Our community is very convenience-oriented, and we’re notorious for propping doors open or blocking the lock mechanisms. Don’t do it. This is just common sense, but we need to renew our application of these basic tactics.

Another issue we’ve been working on with building coordinators is clearing hallways of unnecessary debris, like boxes and furniture. Many people set these things out thinking they’ll get picked up eventually, but this clutter makes it harder to determine which items might be suspicious, and it provides concealment and cover for someone who may want to do damage.

What steps have you taken to communicate security information with the campus?
We are sharing information using deans and directors memos, the campus home page, CalMail, training for certain departments, such as Mail Services, articles in the Berkeleyan and good, old-fashioned flyers. We’ve also held several brown-bag seminars on safety and will continue to hold them as the need exists. We are also exploring the use of the campuswide PA system.

The fastest, most reliable source of official information is the campus Web home page. We rely on the home page and Public Affairs to deliver critical communications in an emergency.


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