Protests. Counter-protests. Hostile incidents. Surveillance. Shootings.
College campus security is getting ever more complicated — and expensive. In 2017, the University of California at Berkeley spent nearly $4 million on security for three high-profile events featuring controversial speakers. This sum included costs for hiring and accommodating police officers from other campuses and cities, ambulances and rented barricades. 
While that’s an extreme scenario, every college and university is facing heightened campus security challenges. Here’s a look at some practical tools being used to address them.
Campus text alerts
The use of text alerts to warn students about on-campus threats is widespread. But these campus alert systems are by no means foolproof. In May 2017, Colgate University staff and students received warnings about an active shooter on campus. Later, it was revealed that someone had seen a black student carrying a glue gun and reported an armed man to campus security. The incident sparked widespread accusations of racial bias.
Colgate’s internal review found no bias on the part of the university, but resulted in two significant findings. One, campus safety’s decision to call 911 and “engage external police forces, after receiving a report of a potential armed threat” was appropriate. Two, the alerts that panicked the campus were sent mistakenly, due to “technical and procedural barriers to effective emergency communications, and a lack of adequate training in emergency response.”
Rave Mobile Safety, the alert system used by Colgate and some 1,400 other colleges and universities, recommends taking certain steps to reduce the chances of a false alarm. Regularly change the steps required for confirmation when sending an alert, Rave suggests, which forces users to double-check their actions. And limit the users who have authority to push “THE button,” Rave says, to reduce the chances “of someone mistakenly sending a false alert that ignites widespread panic across the state.”
Des Moines Area Community College, a 12-campus system that uses Rave, encourages the senior administrators and campus provosts on its crisis team to practice sending alerts, ensuring their comfort with the system. When other departments asked to send alerts, security staff said no; to avoid “alert fatigue,” the system is only used for emergencies and weather-related closings.
Smartphone access control systems
Many campus card access systems use 125kHz proximity cards and magnetic swipe readers, but it’s easy to hack this technology and create counterfeit credentials, Campus Safety magazine reports. Advanced cards with custom encryption are secure, but also more complex to manage. The newest solution is access control built around smartphones and Bluetooth-enabled locks.
One early adopter was Villanova University, which rolled out smartphone access control in 2012. All that’s required is an app; once authenticated by the university, it gives students access to their residence hall. “Their phone is basically always in their hand or within a couple of feet of them,” John Bonass, assistant director of university card systems at Villanova, told Inside Higher Ed. “Students just don’t lose their phones like they would lose a master key.”
Online sexual assault reporting
In 2017, Stanford University became the highest-profile school to test Callisto, an innovative app that facilitates the reporting of sexual assault. The app, developed by a nonprofit company that was founded by a sexual assault survivor, gives students three options when an assault occurs. One, they can report it electronically to the campus Title IX coordinator. Two, they can record the details in a time-stamped account for submission later. Three, they can elect to have their report sent to the school only if another user names the same perpetrator. Callisto says
15 percent of sexual assault survivors who opted into the matching system were assaulted by the same perpetrator as another person in the system.
Because it’s still a new system, questions about Callisto remain. Will universities take appropriate action once a report is received? Will it make it easier for people to file false reports? And what legal protections do users have?
Campus climate reporting
The University of Texas at Austin is one of many schools that maintain an online reporting system for students and others to notify the university of incidents involving racism, discrimination or intimidation. Examples include verbal comments, social media posts, graffiti, flyers posted on campus and physical assaults. Reports are made publicly available, as are the actions taken in response by the Campus Climate Response Team.
But the purpose of such a system goes beyond responding to individual events. As the school explains, “potential gaps in UT Austin policies and procedures that may impede the university’s ability to minimize campus climate incidents may be addressed, increasing the likelihood of creating a more welcoming and inclusive environment.”
Student assistance hotline
An important part of overall campus safety is ensuring the safety of each individual student. When a student is ill, injured or facing a crisis, does he or she know where to turn? Student Life Assistance, a hotline service that provides 24-hour assistance to students and their parents in emergency situations, is included with every plan offered by Allianz Tuition Insurance. The hotline, operated in partnership with risk management firm red24, can help families travel to see their hospitalized student, assist in arranging to transport a student home after receiving medical care, or arrange for a sick or injured student’s car to be driven back to his or her home.