With commencement season comes the end of the first academic year of the UW’s Division of Campus Community Safety. This means it’s time to reflect on what we learned this past year and where the lessons point us for the summer and coming year.
As a reminder, the Division of Campus Community Safety was established in fall of 2022 to better address the UW’s complex safety challenges across geographies and demographics, day and night, through three key units – SafeCampus, UW Emergency Management and UW Police (Seattle campus).
We work closely with other divisions like Environmental Health & Safety, Facilities and Student Life, and allies like the U District Partnership and REACH. The work is in service of reimagining what safety can mean for all of the UW community and is guided by the goals of accountability, transparency, innovation and equity.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t lead by recalling we started this school year in a way no one envisioned – with four students being hit by gunfire near the UW Seattle campus. This tragedy focused our work immediately on communicating with students, parents and campus colleagues, and working with neighborhood and government partners to change the conditions that led to the violence. That work continues.
From October onward the year has provided opportunities for learning around every corner – identifying gaps in existing services and protocols, but, also, developing impactful collaborations and making new discoveries. Skilled and compassionate people have stepped up at every opportunity.
The dominant messages from UW students, faculty and staff this year have been threefold – that personal safety is a greater concern than it has been in the past; that mental health challenges post-COVID isolation are very present; and that training in emergency response, particularly de-escalation, is desired across all UW populations.
The current urban environment has a lot to do with the first and second messages. The UW Seattle campus and U District are experiencing issues common to most west coast cities – threats, theft, assaults and property damage are up. Gun violence, homelessness, addiction — especially to fentanyl and meth — and untreated mental illness pose ongoing challenges to individuals and families community-wide.
In Campus Community Safety, we’re working to reset and in some cases create foundational policies, information, templates and trainings, while providing day-to-day responses to behaviors of concern, threats and, unfortunately, crimes. We do that thanks to the incredible work of staff in SafeCampus, UW Emergency Management and UWPD, plus partners in safety at UW Tacoma, UW Bothell and in UW Medicine.
Here are a few learning points from the past 10 months.
Building intruders and visitors in crisis
Unfortunately, the Seattle campus has seen a sharp increase in calls regarding people smoking fentanyl in places like the Central Plaza Garage stairwells; people breaking into labs in buildings like Hitchcock and Chemistry; and actively unwell visitors entering classrooms and offices in buildings like Electrical Engineering, PACCAR, Communications and Guggenheim.
UWPD officers respond to these calls and activate responders, as available, from REACH, the group doing outreach and service engagement with homeless individuals in the U District, and from the Downtown Emergency Services mobile crisis intervention team.
The ongoing issues with people setting up overnight to smoke fentanyl and other drugs, and damage doors and elevators, prompted UW in March to establish a working group on safety issues in buildings and in April to increase the number of unarmed security guards working at night. The guards are assigned to the Central Plaza Garage (and stairways) and check other buildings as determined by calls to UWPD.
In April, sorority and fraternity leadership conducted a North of 45th safety walk with representatives from Seattle Police, Seattle City Light, Seattle Public Utilities and Seattle Department of Transportation to highlight lighting, sidewalk and abandoned buildings challenges.
Calls for concern and safety planning rise this year
SafeCampus, UW’s hub for violence prevention, threat assessment and response, wellbeing concerns and safety planning, responded to 1,268 situations in calendar year 2022. This represents a 25% increase in calls from 2021.
Mental health concerns increase
In 2022, 25% of the situations SafeCampus engaged with related to some type of mental health concern for the caller or someone they study, work, live with or otherwise care about. An additional 7% were related to suicide concerns. And 32% of calls were related to sex- and gender-based harassment, stalking, violence and/or discrimination.
Providing training and safety planning
To help mitigate threats of violence or harm, SafeCampus leads Violence Prevention and Assessment Team Meetings with partners from around the University to think creatively about solutions, de-escalation and safety planning. In 2022, SafeCampus led 36 safety planning meetings.
SafeCampus also offered the Violence Prevention and Response training to 919 people; the Building Healthy Workplaces training to over 850 people; and tailored trainings to 21 departments in 2022.
If you are worried about someone or to request training for your area, please reach out to SafeCampus at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Re-energizing emergency preparedness at UW
In November UW launched the new Preparedness Oversight Committee, a critical early step in resetting and reenergizing UW’s post-COVID approach to emergency preparedness and response.
BARC is back
This year marks the return of UW’s BARC (Business, Administration, and Research Continuity) program. BARC – planning for a breakdown or crisis that interrupts regular business operations – was active 2007 through 2018. This year, Jim Tritten was hired as the new BARC program manager for the program’s reboot. Over the next year, UW Bothell, UW Tacoma and key UW Seattle departments will be asked to participate in BARC planning as we get this critical function off the ground. If you’re interested in learning more or have BARC questions, contact Jim at email@example.com.
In May UWEM hosted more than 50 leaders from the UW’s Seattle, Tacoma and Bothell campuses, and Cascadia College, to get re-grounded in the basics of emergency response and to practice working together during a simulated disaster. The training kicks off a re-commitment to regular emergency response exercises for groups all through the UW system.
Work for the summer and coming year
As we go into summer and prepare for a new school year to start in the fall, we have key priorities to work on with partners, including:
- Developing foundational emergency and security policies.
- Finalizing a contract with REACH for a homeless outreach worker assigned to the Seattle campus.
- Ramping up trainings in de-escalation and active threat response.
- Standing up an advisory committee on campus community safety.
- Developing a plan for naloxone availability on campuses.
- Converting the UW Alert to an “opt out” for text messages.
Finally, I want to say thank you to the students, faculty and staff who engaged with me and others from Campus Community Safety as we worked to solve problems together this year. Across UW you’ve been curious and thoughtful, kind and insistent when called for. Several of you have operated under very difficult circumstances amid competing demands. Thank you for your service. May you have a great summer.
Division of Campus Community Safety