As far as public safety goes, the 2017-2018 school year was a rough one. In October 2017, a homicide took place not too far from campus and an elevator component mistaken for a bomb brought the Orange County bomb squad to campus; the next month, ex-Soka student David Smith was arrested after threatening to attack the school with a firearm; in May 2018, a deliberate explosion at a nearby salon killed one person; in June 2018, the California fires came uncomfortably close to campus.
“That was an anomaly I’m not certain most universities face,” Soka Public Safety Director Craig Lee said of the last school year. “There was a lot of things that took place in a small period of time.” However, students who are still concerned about safety on campus can find some solace in new developments being rolled out by Soka’s Public Safety department.
Lee has been spearheading the school’s technological response to safety concerns, including in an expansion of the school’s mass notification system, the launch of a safety app, an upcoming active-shooter training, and new signage around the residence halls.
The updated mass notification system, when utilized, will send emergency notifications from Public Safety to any device connected to the SUA network. This includes all laptops and cell phones, as well as the landlines in the residence halls.
“If you’re on your own laptop, but you’re using the Soka WiFi system, it’s going to interrupt your computer to say, ‘This is what’s going on,’” Lee said. Small scale testing of this system has been successful, he added.
Another update to safety protocols is an app called Rave Guardian, available for free download through the App Store and Google Play. The app is available to all current and former students, faculty, and staff with an @soka.edu email.
The app’s purpose is to make it easier for students to contact Public Safety. It includes a button to call Public Safety, even without saving the number in the user’s phone, as well as the ability to text Public Safety about your concern if talking on the phone could put you at risk. “That was the big thing, the ability to be silent,” Lee said.
The app also includes a “safety timer,” which allows the user to set a timer to notify a friend and/or public safety if they don’t reach their destination within a certain time.
If a user makes a call to Public Safety through the app, the app sends the department the user’s GPS location, and will continue sending that location until the user turns off the call. This is an upgrade from the blue-light emergency phones scattered around campus, Lee said, because when someone rings a blue-light phone, they have to wait in that location until Public Safety arrives. That can put a person in danger.
“[The app] allows you to have a blue-light phone in your hand the entire time” you feel unsafe, Lee said, and allows the user to move away from any person or situation that might be threatening them.
Lee also stressed the fact that the Public Safety’s receipt of the user’s GPS location “is only activated by your call.” Public Safety cannot access a user’s location unless the user has activated a call through the app, and neither the Rave Guardian company nor law enforcement outside of Soka can access the app’s GPS signal.
In addition to these upgrades, a Public Safety-led active shooter training is in the works for March 2019. Lee said the training will cover “how to be prepared if an active shooter comes on campus, what can be expected of us [Public Safety], what can be expected of law enforcement, of the aftermath, that kind of thing.”
The training will be offered multiple times in March, and there will be separate meetings for students and faculty/staff. The exact dates and times have yet to be set, but this article will be updated once they are announced.
“I don’t want people to walk around in fear,” Lee said, “but I also want people to understand that we’re living in a society where things are happening much more than usual, and be prepared just in case something happens.”
Another change that took effect at the beginning of this school year was the placement of signs around the residence halls that read: “Private Path: No public access permitted beyond this point.”
Lee said these signs were not in response to any event involving the residence halls, but were an update to security that’s been a long time coming. According to Lee, when a place is designated as public—which most of Soka is, because of our open-campus policy—visitors must have notice of where they are and aren’t allowed on the premises. It’s always been Soka policy to keep campus visitors not accompanied by a student out of the residence hall area, but prior to the signage, Public Safety couldn’t legally arrest someone who entered the area and then refused to leave when asked.
“Legally, there are certain rights people have when you open up to the public, so what I said was, if someone’s up in the res halls and is up to no good, you want Public Safety to remove them,” Lee said. However, prior to the signs, “If they say no, I have no legal recourse, … because there was nothing telling them that this is public, but this is private.”
Now that the university has officially designated the residence halls as private areas, a visitor who isn’t with a student can be removed by Public Safety if the need arises.
Lee encourages students with questions of any kind about safety on campus to send him an email or stop by his office, Maathai 215. “Anybody here who has a question, comment, or concern—that door is generally open unless I’m talking to someone. I’m as transparent as I can be,” he said.