Student Council creates Emergency Communications and Safety Committee

Group also includes representatives from Minority Rights Coalition and Honor Committee

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The committee includes Chief of University Police Michael Gibson, Clery Compliance Coordinator Gabe Gates and Marge Sidebottom, the director of the University’s Office of Safety and Emergency Preparedness.

Cassandra Plemons | Cavalier Daily

Student Council’s Safety and Wellness committee established the Emergency Communications and Safety Committee this semester in response to community concerns brought before Student Council about the effectiveness of emergency notifications on Grounds. 

The committee is made up of representatives from the Minority Rights Coalition, the Honor Committee and the co-chairs of the Student Council Safety and Wellness Committee in collaboration with Chief of University Police Michael Gibson, Clery Compliance Coordinator Gabe Gates and Marge Sidebottom, the director of the University’s Office of Safety and Emergency Preparedness.

The student organizations plan to meet every month in collaboration with administrators, with each participating organization being purposefully limited to two delegates to each meeting in an attempt to keep the meetings constructive and focused.

“The committee is designed to both facilitate the discussion of student concerns regarding the safety communication systems currently in place,” said Logan Brich, a third-year College student and a co-chair of the Safety and Wellness Committee. “We hope to develop more effective measures for transparently communicating the differences between each of the university-wide safety communication channels to the U.Va. community.”

Concerns brought before the committee include past inefficiencies in University notification systems, such as the timeliness of emergency notifications involving local crime reports and determining better standardization of what kind of situation warrants sending either community alerts or emergency notifications. 

“Students felt that the emergency alerts system, the Timely Warning/Your Right to Know program, and other channels of university-wide safety communication were being utilized either inadequately or inconsistently,” Brich said. “For instance, students felt that it was inappropriate for an emergency notification to be sent to the community reminding them to not look directly at the sun during the solar eclipse, while no alerts were sent out regarding the neo-Nazi and white supremacist rally on U.Va. Grounds and in Downtown Charlottesville on August 11 and 12.”

Some students have also suggested that the University should have issued a community alert after white nationalists returned to Charlottesville on the evening of Oct. 7 for a torchlit rally in Emancipation Park. 

According to Evelyn Wang, a fourth-year Commerce student and the chair of the MRC Executive Board, said it was also important that “in the event of future threats to safety within the Charlottesville community, students are notified, since many students live off-Grounds.”

In addition to the student representatives, the ECSC reached out to Gibson, Sidebottom and Gates with the premise of discussing ways in which the University can most effectively communicate safety and emergency information to the University community. The three administrators, having already met with the student representatives, agreed to continue their discussion with the ECSC about safety and communication concerns on Grounds. 

“Each of us brings our own expertise from our particular area of focus to the discussion,” Gibson said. “Our hope is to improve the understanding of what we do and look for ways to improve the delivery of important time sensitive information to our community … We as a group can also discuss more effective ways to deliver that information based on the technology available to us so our community can make sound decisions about their personal safety.”

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