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Wednesday, May 29, 2024
The Eagle

Public Safety opens brand-new facility on East Campus

Facility features campus lockdown button, 24/7 communications center

A 24-hour call center, situation room and camera footage from over 600 security cameras across campus.

These are all components of Public Safety’s new building, which sits below the Don Myers Technology and Innovation Building on East Campus. It houses a staff of 150 employees, upgraded security technology and training sessions for emergencies.

After spending years in an aging former fraternity house on the south side of campus, the department relocated on July 15 to the newly constructed space.

Phillip Morse, the assistant vice president of University Police, said the move has been in the works for years because their former home was too small and beyond repair. In 2013, he and Daniel Nichols, the assistant vice president of risk management, presented a five-year strategic plan to former University President Neil Kerwin and Don Myers, the University’s long-time chief financial officer, that included construction for a facility to house more staff and new equipment.

“A part of that strategic plan was designing a Risk Management-University Police combined facility, state of the art, custom to our needs, to ensure that all the other things we were doing with safety and security would come together, work collaboratively and make the campus a safer place,” Morse said in an interview with The Eagle.

One of the most significant changes in the new building is a campus lockdown button. With one push, the button can lock down buildings remotely in case of an emergency, such as an armed shooter.

The larger office space also houses a new 24/7 communication center with a built-in radio system to communicate with shuttles, the fire department and local police. The center will also handle AU Alerts, which are sent out to students, faculty and staff during emergencies.

“Communication was also a huge issue when we came in because in an emergency situation, commercial communication fails,” Morse said.

Nichols and Morse designed the new building to account for the growing campus population, which amounts to about 18,000, Nichols said. The growth prompted the construction and expansion of residence halls and academic buildings as well as changes in technology that will help protect the AU community, Nichols told The Eagle.

“You have to link it to how the University has changed in the recent past,” Nichols said. “By any measure, American University is equivalent to a small city. A lot has to go into not only planning the facilities but protecting those facilities and the community that we serve.”

Public Safety has expanded its staff by consolidating offices that were not all centrally located. For example, traffic staff used to be housed in the lower level of Letts Hall. Now, traffic and University police work in the Don Myers building, giving administrators “one central location” for all safety needs, Morse said.

“We brought a lot of different pieces of University safety operations together in one facility,” Nichols said. “I think it makes it easier for the people we serve.”

The facility also houses training for programs such as CRISIS, which trains officers to respond to and provide resources for people with mental health issues. The department worked closely with the AU Counseling Center and D.C. Department of Health to provide the best training procedures, Morse said.

“If you don’t have that level of training, then situations like that can escalate very quickly, and what we’re truly trying to achieve is the safety of that person,” Morse said.

In addition to a larger staff, Public Safety now has new initiatives to increase police interaction with the AU community. Community liaison officers are now assigned to all residence halls to establish relationships with students, provide a safe resource and participate in residence hall events, such as floor meetings.

“This facility actually allows us to address both sides of our mission, which is being proactive in what we do, and then being reactive in our responsibilities,” Nichols said.

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