Changes to Clery Act impact emergency plans, require drills

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Monday, February 8, 2010

KING OF PRUSSIA, Pa.—New regulations scheduled to take effect this summer will require institutions of higher learning to change the way they develop and publish their emergency plans as well as how they report incidents.

New amendments to the Jeanne Clery Act, which were enacted into law in 2008 in the wake of the shootings at Virginia Tech, will take effect July 1, 2010. The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act is a federal law requiring institutions of higher education to release campus crime statistics and security policies to their current and prospective students and employees. 

One of the three primary changes to the security regulations, which were published on Oct. 29, 2009 by the U.S. Department of Education, include the way educational institutions address emergency response. Schools will now be required to have an official emergency plan written and a summary of that plan disclosed in their annual security report, beginning on Oct. 1, 2010. “Most institutions we’ve had contact with have some type of plan, but hopefully this gets them to take it off the shelf, dust it off and re-evaluate it,” said S. Daniel Carter, director of public policy of Security On Campus, a non-profit organization dedicated to the prevention of criminal violence at colleges and universities.

According to the legislation, schools must include the procedures used to immediately notify the campus community during an emergency. The description must include the process the institution will use to confirm an emergency situation, what segments of the campus community will receive notification, how to determine the content of the notification and the titles of the persons who are permitted to initiate the system.

After the shootings at Virginia Tech, many schools implemented mass notification systems and Carter stresses that schools need to maintain multiple ways of notifying the community during an emergency. “A public address is still an effective way to reach a large number of people because it doesn’t depend on checking email and cell phones, but text messaging is a critical component and it’s important to have a strong policy that facilitates getting these messages out through multiple channels,” he said.

In addition to the publication of its written emergency plans, schools will now be required to conduct at least one yearly drill designed to assess and evaluate its emergency response and evacuation procedures. The legislation states that these tests may be announced or unannounced, but the exercise must be documented including the date, time and whether the test was announced or not. Schools must also publicize its emergency response and evacuation procedures in conjunction with the test.

This change to the legislation is intended to ensure that schools not only have a plan in place, but that the plan has been properly tested, assessed and adjusted accordingly. “More important then just to make a plan, is to make sure it works,” said Carter. “Now they’ll have to drill or run exercises regularly and follow through with an assessment of their emergency plan.”

Along the same lines, the legislation also addresses the institutions’ policies regarding missing students, which must also now be published in its annual security report, beginning Oct. 1, 2010. For all schools that provide on-campus housing, they must now have a written procedure regarding how the institution handles missing student reports. This includes the titles of persons to whom students or employees should report a student missing and requirements that a missing student report must be immediately referred to the institution’s police or security department. Institutions must also include an option for each student to identify a contact person in case that student reported missing.

And the third biggest change to the Clery Act legislation is in regards to how institutions report hate crimes. As of July 1, schools must report crimes that “manifest evidence that the victim was intentionally selected because of the victim’s actual or perceived race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or disability,” according to the legislation. Schools must report these crimes, regardless of if there was bodily injury or not, including crimes of larceny-theft, simple assault, intimidation, and destruction, damage or vandalism of property. This requirement that schools must report all incidents of hate crimes regardless of physical harm is critical to garnering better statistics on the prevalence of such crimes on campus, said Carter.

“This will give us a better sense of hate crimes on campuses,” he said. “Reporting previously didn’t really adequately capture that situation because most hate crimes were not of the more serious category that Clery requires institutions to report.”