UC Davis Builds On Emergency, Mental Health Services

DAVIS, Calif. – As the higher education community this month recognizes the one-year anniversary of the Virginia Tech shooting tragedy, UC Davis is pressing forward with its ongoing efforts to improve safety and emergency management on its own campuses.

“The tragedy at Virginia Tech was a dark day, especially for those of us in the higher education community,” Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef said. “But it has highlighted the importance of campus safety, student mental health services and emergency readiness.”

In the year since a troubled Virginia Tech student killed 32 and then turned a gun on himself on April 16 in the deadliest shooting massacre in the nation’s history, UC Davis has made major improvements in its ability to handle emergencies and serve the mental health needs of students.

Already served by comprehensive emergency management programs, full-service police and fire departments, and counseling centers, UC Davis in the past year has introduced an emergency alert system, trained all of its officers in rapid response to an active shooter, and augmented its mental health staff.

Emergency Response

Emergency notification: In February, UC Davis introduced an emergency alert system to provide faculty, staff and students with timely information and instructions during emergencies. The system can send simultaneous messages to the university community on the Davis and Sacramento campuses and off-site locations by E-mail, telephone, cell phone, fax, pager and text messaging.

It was tested in February, and in the spring students and employees will be asked to provide personal contact information. The system complements other UC Davis communications including use of the police bullhorns and sirens, fire alarms, the Web, and news media.

The Sacramento campus, which encompasses UC Davis Medical Center, provides emergency notification by use of text pagers, overhead paging, and Vocera (a wireless, hands-free voice communication system). It is exploring the installation of a public address system to provide audible alerts outside the buildings.

Valerie Lucus, emergency manager on the Davis campus, said UC Davis is also working to place warning sirens on the Davis campus and exploring the use of sending voice messages over the Internet to provide for audible alerts in classrooms with Internet connections.

The next step, Lucus said, will be a public education program about the various alerting systems. “We want everyone to be aware of them and know how to respond,” she said.

In March, UC Davis hosted a symposium on campus messaging systems for the UC community to share information on developing, implementing and managing campus emergency messaging. About 120 people from nine campuses attended.

Active shooter training: Since the Virginia Tech tragedy, all UC Davis police officers have completed training to respond rapidly to active shooters, and related equipment has been purchased. While it was once standard for law enforcement to set up a perimeter and wait for a specially trained and equipped SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) team to arrive, the active shooter procedures call for teams of trained officers to move in immediately and neutralize the shooter.

Community training: The police department also holds training sessions to help members of the university community to think ahead and learn strategies to increase the likelihood of surviving a shooting incident like Virginia Tech’s. The 90-minute presentation has been made on the Davis and Sacramento campuses. The police department also offers a free nine-week Citizens Academy to help the university community learn more about law enforcement at UC Davis. Students who complete the program are eligible for course credit.

Emergency management programs: Under the guidance of a full-time emergency planner, the Davis campus emergency management program includes an emergency operations plan for preparing for, responding to and recovering from emergencies and uses a specially equipped emergency operations center to coordinate emergency response. The Sacramento campus emergency management program focuses on maintaining the ability to treat patients and preserving the safety and security of staff, patients and visitors, regardless of the type of emergency event. Both programs provide ongoing training for employees and conduct emergency exercises.

Joint training: As the result of a successful joint proposal, up to 75 emergency officials from UC Davis, the city of Davis and Yolo County will train together next year at a weeklong integrated emergency management course. Offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the course will be taught at the Emergency Management Institute in Maryland.

Campus Violence Prevention Program

Last fall, the Campus Violence Prevention Program, a national leader in combating violence against women, was awarded a $1 million federal grant to help UC’s 10 campuses improve their prevention and response programs. The three-year project aims to coordinate a model program to reduce the incidence of campus-based violence against women and to provide effective outreach programs and services that make it as comfortable as possible for victims to come forward.

Mental Health

Additional student registration fee funding this year enabled Student Affairs to expand its most critical student mental health services, largely related to clinical assessment, intervention and treatment. This is in keeping with the general recommendations of a fall 2006 report of the UC student mental health committee.

Mental health staffing: New positions include five psychologists, including one for the Student Disability Center to focus on mental health disability accommodations; 1.5 psychiatrists; and a data analyst to evaluate student mental health information and trends. Counseling and Psychological Services, the counseling center for students, now has a staff of two psychiatrists, 16 psychologists, and six pre-doctoral psychology interns and five postdoctoral fellows.

Crisis response: At UC Davis, the Student Crisis Response Team and the Faculty-Staff Crisis Response Team provide immediate and comprehensive response to situations that involve disruption, intimidation or violence. These teams develop plans for faculty, staff and administrators to implement to help manage ongoing problems.

Case manager: A new case manager works with students referred by the Student Crisis Response Team on the Davis campus. He provides consultation to Student Judicial Affairs and Student Housing as they discipline students who have acted out on campus. The case manager works closely with students who need crisis intervention and hospitalization, and facilitates referrals to campus and community resources.

Behavioral medicine program: The counseling center and the Cowell Student Health Center are developing a joint behavioral medicine program to increase the likelihood that students with psychological concerns and disorders who seek medical treatment will also receive needed mental health services.

24/7 service: Additionally, Counseling and Psychological Services has instituted a seven-days-a-week, after-hours consultation and crisis response service to augment its regular services. Students can now call the CAPS general office number at any time and speak to a mental health professional.

In other steps, Counseling and Psychological Services:

  • has increased its programming for men and is using Multicultural Immersion Program interns to help reduce the stigma some students experience when deciding to seek help from a mental health professional;
  • is offering additional training to faculty and academic departments to help with effective identification, response and referral of distressed students;
  • began in January an extensive liaison program with dean’s offices and Student Affairs units that in February led to a 40 percent increase in students seeking an initia
    l counseling session; and

  • has experienced an increase in hospitalizations of students who are a danger to themselves or others during the last year.

Violence prevention education: Karen Hull, interim associate vice chancellor for human resources, said violence prevention education has become a priority since the Virginia Tech tragedy. The Academic Staff Assistance Program for employees has educated about 800 faculty and staff about this issue since April 2007. And threat issues were the subject of a presentation sponsored by the Office of the Vice Provost-Academic Personnel. The session for department chairs and managers focused on what signs to look for, how to respond to threats and what campus resources are available.

UC Davis April 3, 2008 release

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