You drive through the front entrance of Fairfield University’s campus almost every day without a second thought. There usually isn’t someone there who stops and questions you, but you’re glad they don’t. In fact, you find it a little annoying when the Public Safety officer in the booth does ask for your StagCard- it’s your school, and your semi-permanent home, after all.
But when there isn’t a Public Safety officer patrolling the gate, have you ever wondered who could wander onto Fairfield’s campus? According to Director of Public Safety Todd Pelazza, an officer is posted at the main entrance of the university and the exterior gates are secured every day between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.
“This is done to have greater control of who is coming onto campus with vehicles at night,” said Pelazza.
But in 2002, CNN’s helicopters swirled above the university’s quaint campus, showing the nation what happened during broad daylight when Patrick Arbelo ’01 strolled through the unguarded gates and held a class of students hostage in Canisius, claming he had a bomb.
“Security is extremely inconsistent when it comes to their policies at the gate,” said Kaleena Bello ’06. “At times, they require everyone to have an ID in the car and refuse entrance because of this, while at other times, which I have witnessed, they have let cars in without everyone showing an ID.”
“In many ways, security is too lenient,” she added. “For this reason, [I] do not feel [the university] is prepared for an emergency situation.”
The uncertainty of campus security leaves students questioning how could Fairfield have planned for such an emergency that happened three years ago. Pelazza also noted that Arbelo was an alumnus of the university and had been an accepted member of the Fairfield community. How could Public Safety have known? Some students say that reasonably, Public Safety cannot demand an ID from every person who passes through the six entrances of the university during daylight.
“It would really be impossible, because it’s the busiest time for Fairfield,” said Jennifer DeNapoli ’06. “Imagine the amount of backups. Professors and students who live off campus would never be able to make it to classes on time.”
Dean of Students Mark Reed agreed.
“Frankly, there are some emergencies you can reasonably plan for and others that are much more difficult,” he said.
Although there have been blunders, the university has proven itself to react well to emergencies of great magnitude in the past. For instance, in 2003 during the heightened terrorist risk across the nation, the university implemented an “indefinite lockdown” until the warning was lifted. All persons entering the campus had to present identification and registration for their cars. The line to enter the university seemed never ending, but no one entered who shouldn’t have.
But ordinarily, Fairfield keeps its gates open. According to Pelazza, although Fairfield is a private institution and has restricted access at times, it remains an open academic environment, allowing the public to access its campus for cultural and recreational events. However, residence halls and certain academic buildings can only be accessed with a StagCard.
Because Public Safety cannot foresee all emergencies, the department must prepare their reaction to such situations. Over winter break, Fairfield’s Public Safety officers also attended the first of many courses to help them plan for such emergencies. An ongoing grant from the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, the class trained university Public Safety officers in weapons of mass destruction.
After the hostage situation, the university developed a crisis management team, according to Pelazza. Although the university, along with outside police help, was able to return all students from Canisius unharmed, Public Safety officers on the team were trained in the management of critical incidents, in case something of that degree were to occur again. They continue to renew and update the policies they use.
The team responded when alerted of the Bannow transformer fire two weeks ago, by an addressable fire alarm system linked directly to Fairfield’s dispatch center. Public Safety officers arrived quickly on the scene, along with university mechanics and the Fairfield Fire Department.
Classes were suspended in the building, to ensure the university had adequate time to deem the site safe for students and professors. Once the power was restored, classes resumed.
“Due to the high volume of service personnel, the north wing was not locked at the time the picture was taken,” Pelazza said, addressing students who dangerously accessed the north wing and took pictures of the transformer. “Therefore, students were able to access the area of the fire.”
It may be impossible to deter all dangerous situations and emergencies. However, Fairfield knows that it is important to know how to react to such emergencies.
“Overall, I think the university has the right people and procedures in place to handle most any emergency that presents itself,” said Reed. “Emergency plans and procedures exist, Public Safety officers and other university staff are regularly trained in emergency procedures, and the university reviews its policies and procedures regularly.”