A comprehensive, independent review of the University of Virginia’s security and safety efforts finds that while UVA invests appropriate resources into its initiatives, there are a number of potential improvements to its practices.
The review by Margolis Healy and Associates, presented at Friday’s Board of Visitors meeting, includes a set of recommendations that the firm said could improve coordination, communication and the ability to sustain the highest degree of safety.
“UVA invests substantial time, energy, personnel and resources in making this community as safe as it possibly can be. It’s our top priority,” Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Pat Hogan said. “This independent evaluation affirms our commitment and, just as important, provides recommendations for how we can do a more comprehensive job. We look forward to implementing those enhancements.”
The Margolis Healy report includes a finding that the University would benefit from consolidating safety and security functions into one division – a move projected to improve coordination, communication, oversight and budgeting.
Such a consolidation would organize the University Police Department, security operations and systems, the Office of Emergency Preparedness and the Office of Environmental Health & Safety under a “Safety and Security” umbrella that reports to the University’s chief operating officer. Those departments currently are managed individually, though they operate with coordination.
In recent years, UVA has increased its safety and security resources, including the addition of the Ambassadors program and the establishment of a police substation on The Corner. Following the Aug. 11 torch march on Grounds by white supremacists, the University again increased the presence and availability of Ambassadors personnel across Grounds.
The Margolis Healy report recommends additional crime prevention programming and additional outreach and engagement with the University community on matters regarding safety and security. It also recommends development of a strategic engagement plan.
Other recommendations include:
- Assigning more resources for event management and coordination;
- Centralizing the management of security systems, including the network infrastructure, and security considerations for buildings and other UVA facilities;
- Enhancements to emergency preparedness operations; and
- Improvements to processes related to threat assessments.
Hogan said he backed the report’s recommendations, and told the board next steps would include developing an implementation plan for the recommended action items and for budgeting their related costs, and updating the board next spring on progress.
The Margolis Healy report identified areas in which UVA currently excels in safety and security. It applauds UVA’s robust emergency operations plan, an advanced security camera network and UVA’s partnerships with other law enforcement and security agencies.
The safety and security review was one of several outcomes of actions taken by the University in the wake of the Aug. 11 events.
In late August, UVA President Teresa A. Sullivan formed a University Working Group, chaired by School of Law Dean Risa Goluboff, and tasked it with reviewing the events of Aug. 11 to seek an understanding of how UVA could have responded differently. The Working Group’s September report included a number of recommended changes to policies and practices to better safeguard the University while maintaining its commitment to constitutionally protected free speech.
The University has taken immediate steps to make UVA and the surrounding areas safer. These steps have included:
- Extending the Ambassadors program to provide on-Grounds coverage, including the Lawn and residential areas;
- Increasing safety and security personnel at large public events;
- Hiring MSA Security to provide a security-risk assessment for large events such as athletic events, “A Concert for Charlottesville,” the Bicentennial Launch Weekend and the Lighting of the Lawn;
- Setting new Scott Stadium and John Paul Jones Arena Bag Policy and Entry Procedures; and
- Implementing new regulations that govern both open flames on Grounds and the designation of the historical Academical Village as a facility.
The open-flames regulation strengthens University policy such that no one may kindle or authorize an open flame within any University facility or property without the approval of the Office of Environmental Health and Safety or the UVA Medical Center Fire Protection Inspector’s Office. (Exemptions exist for certain outdoor cooking and laboratory equipment when used according to existing guidelines.) Designating the Academical Village as a “facility” positions UVA to prohibit the possession, storage or use of any weapon, firework or explosive chemicals by the general public or visitors.