After Terrorism and Shootings, Colleges Find High-Tech Ways to Contact Students in Crisis

When Ron Chicken returns to Montclair State University in New Jersey as a junior this fall, he'll bring along his private security guard.

That's his Rave cell phone — a fantastical device he was required to buy from the university that not only gives him train schedules, class assignments, movie times and news, but a direct link to the campus police.

"It's almost like a BlackBerry," said the 20-year-old classics and religious studies major. "It has dandy features like giving me the live shuttle bus schedule on a cold rainy night, and it's a tracking system that provides for my safety," Chicken said.

The device's "safe walk" feature lets students set a timer when they want police to watch over them as they cross a dark campus. Police are notified when students arrive at their destination and — and if they don't, a police officer is dispatched immediately.

The device has other features so that Montclair administrators can contact students in case of an emergency.

The Mobile Guardian software used on the phones is made by Rave Wireless Inc. and is one of many security technologies colleges are using in after the campus tragedy at Virginia Tech.

In the five months since Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 students and faculty members on campus before fatally shooting himself, colleges around the country have implemented multilayered security plans, buying up an array of technology that will enable them to communicate quickly with students and faculty in a crisis.

'Virginia Tech Woke Us All Up'

From Rutgers University to Ohio State, colleges are evaluating everything from physical security to mass e-mail capabilities, text messaging and even old-fashioned sirens and loudspeakers.

"Virginia Tech was such an awful tragedy that everyone is now taking security seriously," said Catherine Bath, executive director of Security on Campus, a nonprofit organization founded 20 years ago in honor of murdered Lehigh University student Jeanne Clery.

"No one has brushed it off," said Bath.

Security on Campus was responsible for congressional passage of the Clery Act, which requires detailed and timely crime reports from campus law enforcement agencies. The organization closely monitors security issues on campuses and often files complaints against those schools that don't comply with the statute.

This year, Montclair State won the Security on Campus Clery Award for the implementation of its new cell phone technology.

"It's the most sophisticated communication in place," said Bath. "Rave changes the face of campus safety."

The Rave-enabled device could have been a lifesaver at Virginia Tech. It has a panic button that can alert police in a hostage situation or whenever a student feels threatened — even in cases of unwelcome advances at drunken fraternity parties.

The system is now used at 70 other colleges, including the University of North Carolina and Cal State University.

Officials at the University of South Florida have said they are trying to get students to subscribe to another Rave emergency service called MoBull Plus.

At Montclair State, a campus of 16,000 students located just 13 miles from New York City, the college felt the emotional reverberations of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

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