Samford University has responded to the tragedy that happened Monday by encouraging prayer for the Virginia Tech community and making resources available to the Samford campus.
In an email late Monday to the campus community, Samford President Andrew Westmoreland said, "Our hearts ache tonight for our peers and colleagues at Virginia Tech, for the families of those who have perished, for those who are clinging to life."
Westmoreland asked the Samford community to pray for the Virginia Tech community. Flags on the campus are flying at half-mast. The university also offered special prayers during the regular convocation service on Tuesday.
"As Samford's president, I feel the burden for ensuring--to the greatest extent possible--that we have taken every reasonable step to provide for the safety of our students and employees. I acknowledge that, within a free society, there are limits to our ability to control for every circumstance. However, we will seek to learn from this horrible tragedy and to enhance the security of the campus. In that light, I want to express our thanks to the members of our campus safety staff for their efforts. More than ever, we are reminded tonight that these men and women place our safety above their own protection."
Coincidentally, the university announced plans for a campus safety restructuring just as the news from Virginia was becoming public. The plans had been in the works for several weeks.
Dean of Students Richard M. Franklin said, "The plan is to focus on service and security. The new structure and function enhances communications with students, faculty and staff. Communication is vital in ensuring that suspicious activities are reported. Samford's campus statistics support the fact that there is very little crime on campus, and we are diligent in maintaining that status."
Chief Bobby Breed and Deputy Chief Ron Gadson of Samford's campus safety office have decades of law enforcement experience that "serve the Samford community well. And, because of their reputations, we have very good working relationships with local law enforcement agencies that supplement our own campus safety staff," Westmoreland noted.
In news stories published in USA Today and elsewhere, Steven Healy, president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Agencies noted that "most colleges and universities with more than 7,000 students (Samford has about 4,500) have police forces with sworn, armed officers."
Healy also said it is a "myth" that campus safety officers are glorified security guards, a notion that is clouding the debate over the Virginia Tech response.
Samford has three full-time sworn law enforcement officers and an additional staff of 11 campus safety officers who work shifts 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Samford's campus safety office maintains constant radio contact with the Homewood Police Department and other local law enforcement agencies.
Several weeks ago Breed had scheduled a meeting of Samford's emergency response team for April 26 for a periodic review of Samford's emergency and crisis plans.
"We implement the emergency response plan when needed, most recently during the bad weather that crossed Alabama in March," Breed said. "Obviously it is in the best interests of the university not to make public too many details of our campus safety and crisis management plans, but those plans are reviewed regularly by both our campus safety staff and local officials."
Samford's counseling center is available to students and employees seeking help in dealing with the Virginia Tech tragedy. Marcia Hamby, director of counseling services, has provided a list of resources to campus employees to use in working with students.
"It is virtually impossible to anticipate every potential scenario, but I want to assure the campus community that we do everything we can to ensure the safety of our students and employees on a daily basis," Westmoreland said. "Our faculty and staff – particularly those in student life and campus safety – do a wonderful job of getting to know our students and providing personal attention to student needs. That is our priority."
Samford Emergency Response Plan: http://www.samford.edu/campussafety/erm_toc.html
Samford Counseling Services: http://www.samford.edu/groups/stuaff/counmission.html.
International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Agencies: http://www.iaclea.org