How the Clery Act Can Help Colleges Prepare for the Unexpected and Prevent Incidents

The Clery Center recommends institutions of higher education take these five steps when they are revisiting or publicizing their timely warning or emergency notification policies.

How the Clery Act Can Help Colleges Prepare for the Unexpected and Prevent Incidents

The latest string of school shootings, most notably the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., have reignited national conversation on gun access and gun violence. Such incidents on any campus — K-12 or higher education — raise questions for all institutions as to how they prepare for the unexpected and work to prevent incidents.

Thankfully, some of the most familiar aspects of Clery Act requirements create structures for campus crime response, including alerting members of the campus community if there are any immediate or ongoing threats. Think about the update on your institution’s homepage warning of a string of robberies or the emails informing community members that a suspect for an aggravated assault on campus has been identified but not yet apprehended. Without the Clery Act, messages like these might not be sent at all. The Clery Act requires institutions to alert their campuses by issuing a timely warning if a Clery-specific crime occurring within Clery-specific geography poses a serious or ongoing threat to the campus community. Clery crimes include homicide, aggravated assault and weapons law violations, among other things.

The act also requires institutions to issue emergency notifications when an emergency threatening the health and safety of the campus community occurs on campus. Emergencies can range from a chemical spill in the science lab to an unexpected tornado to an active shooter.

As commonplace as they might seem now, emergency notifications were not a Clery Act requirement until 2008. The deadly shooting at Virginia Tech in April 2007 forced a conversation on whether or not the Clery Act timely warning requirement provided enough of a mechanism to warn the campus about immediate emergencies like an active shooter incident. Today, U.S. colleges and universities are required to assess whether or not there is a significant emergency or dangerous situation that warrants a notification to the campus community.

Campuses sometimes struggle with communicating the intention of timely warnings and emergency notifications and the distinctions between their uses. Many campuses do not want to water down the significance of such warnings by over-issuing them but also want to make sure their campus is aware of any potential risk that might impact their overall well-being.

Because national incidents often lead to questions and concerns from your own campus community, consider revisiting or publicizing your own timely warning or emergency notification policies. Here are some suggestions for Clery team tasks:

  1. Review your timely warning and emergency notification policies for compliance. This checklist is a good starting point.
  2. Create a one-page document that describes the function of timely warnings and emergency notifications and how campus community members will receive necessary information in an emergency.
  3. Film a short video or launch an awareness campaign explaining the difference between timely warnings and emergency notifications and how to sign up for your institution’s alerts (if you have an opt-in system).
  4. Organize a working group to examine current timely warning practices (method of issuing alerts, language in alerts) to determine possible policy or practice changes, if needed.
  5. Organize a test (drill or exercise) of your emergency response and evacuation procedures as required by the Clery Act. Coordinate with local first responders.

Clery alerting measures are a crucial tool in promoting a culture of transparency and support on a college campus. Without them, community members would not know about patterns of crime, situations to avoid or be aware of, or how to be a vigilant community member working to ensure the safety and well-being of fellow community members. Alerting requirements under the Clery Act create an assurance that we often forget was not always part of the college experience.

Colleges and universities will best serve their campus communities through utilizing these types of alerts, when appropriate, and through direct education as to when and why each alert is employed. Engaging in such action ensures a balance between protecting the rights of students and honoring transparency as well as promoting the importance of the overall well-being of the campus community.

Laura Egan oversees the development and execution of training and technical assistance projects, programs, and resources at the Clery Center, including Clery Act Training Seminars, webinars, and National Campus Safety Awareness Month.  She presents nationally and provides individualized support on compliance with and implementation of Clery Act requirements, campus safety, compliance, and gender based violence and discrimination. 

Abigail Boyer manages a comprehensive array of services and programs for the Clery Center, including Jeanne Clery Act Training, online curriculum development, and National Campus Safety Awareness Month. She also presents nationally on topics related to campus safety, the Clery Act, dynamics of sexual and domestic violence, and victims’ services. Prior to joining the Clery Center, Abigail served as the Community Outreach Coordinator for The Crime Victims’ Center of Chester County, where she was instrumental in the development and implementation of prevention education programs targeted towards students, parents, and other community members.

The Clery Center is a national nonprofit organization that helps institutions of higher education understand and comply with The Clery Act via strategic consulting services, policy insight, and staff compliance training. Founded in 1987 after the murder of Jeanne Clery, Clery Center is uniquely dedicated to making campus safety a nationwide reality.



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