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Health & Safety

Campus Safety Tips and Tools

Suzanne Shaffer

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When it comes to personal safety, today’s college students live in a world that requires vigilance and awareness. Colleges and universities work to foster safe environments, but students share responsibility.

Now that your student has had some time to acclimate to their new campus and life, it's a good idea to check in about what they do on a daily basis to keep themselves safe. What is the relationship between their campus and the surrounding area (whether it’s rural or urban)? Are there places they shouldn’t walk, jog or bike? Are they good about using the buddy system?

For your part, you can help by supplying good advice and the best safety tools available.

A Basic Safety Checklist

First things first: your student should always follow this essential safety checklist. Many of these recommendations were shared at orientation and move-in, but it’s good to revisit the list periodically — it may take a while before they check off every box.

 Always lock your dorm room and secure your valuables.
 Don’t let anyone who doesn't have a student ID into the residence hall. Even if they ask nicely. Verify their identity.
 Sign up for campus emergency alerts. (Parents may be able to sign up for these as well.) Program emergency numbers into your cellphone for easy access.
 Use the buddy system. It can be tempting to go for a run alone, or make a quick trip to the library by yourself after dark, but it’s not worth the risk. Never be alone at night or in remote areas. Stick with your friends at parties and don’t let a friend leave a party alone or with someone you don’t know. Use the buddy system when taking public transportation, Uber and Lyft, too.
 Use campus security escorts and safe rides.
  Take advantage of safety training. Many campuses offer self-defense classes, or you can sign up for one at a local Y or recreation center.
 Register any valuables with serial numbers (electronics, bikes, etc.) with the campus police department. This makes them easier to track if they’re stolen.
 Exchange family contact information with your roommate(s). It’s a good idea for parents to have the roommate’s phone number, too, so everyone can connect during an emergency.

Alcohol can make almost any situation more dangerous.

Students who drink excessively are at higher risk of being involved in car accidents, hazing and sexual assault. Keep talking to your student throughout college about alcohol and substance use. Ask questions and listen to what they have to say about social situations they’ve been in or witnessed. Talk through possible scenarios so they can anticipate how they might act, react and help their friends. Learn more:

College Drinking — Facts for Parents
Have "The Talk" about drugs and alcohol with your student
Campus sexual assault — What parents need to know

Tools for Staying Safe

Safety apps

Your student’s smartphone can be a great self-defense tool. Safety apps give them instant access to authorities, parents and fellow students when they feel they’re in an unsafe situation. Encourage your student to ask their friends for safety app recommendations, and give free apps a test drive. Here are a few to consider.

Watch Over Me – The user activates the app when needed and is tracked until they check in safely at their destination. If they don’t check in, Watch Over Me alerts their emergency contact list immediately with their location. The app also alerts the user when they enter a high crime area.

Circle of 6 – In an uncomfortable or risky situation, the user activates Circle of 6 to send a pre-programmed SMS alert message with their exact location to a chosen circle of six friends. Two taps on a smartphone is all it takes.

Panik – Panik sends preconfigured messages to people the user has selected with only one tap on the SMS dialog send button and also lets the user post status updates on social media, with a location and preconfigured message automatically attached.

Self-defense carry items

These items pair well with a self-defense class because, when faced with danger, your student needs to be prepared to use them quickly and with confidence.

  • A whistle or personal safety alarm is the simplest option. Alarms, which are small and can be attached to keys for easy access, emit up to 130 decibels to scare off an attacker plus capture the attention of bystanders who might come to your student’s aid.
  • Pepper spray (which causes severe irritation of the eyes, skin and respiratory system) is popular because it’s quick, easy to use and effective. However, pepper spray is illegal in some states. Check the law. If this seems like a good option for your student, you can find top pepper spray recommendations here.

How to Stay Safe When Hailing a Ride

Uber and Lyft have changed the transportation scene for college students, who now use them almost without thinking. However, while these services are convenient, authorities encourage following certain safety practices. Pass along these recommendations to your college student!

  • Request the ride inside and wait there until the driver arrives.
  • Verify the ride by matching the license plate and make and model of the vehicle.
  • Ask the driver to confirm your name and confirm their name before getting in the vehicle.
  • If possible, ride in the back seat, behind the driver.
  • Share your trip details with family or friends by clicking the “share trip” button within the app.
  • Follow your intuition. If anything goes wrong, you can call 911 from the rideshare app itself.

Uber has embedded additional safety features in their app and your student should take advantage of all of them. But why not have a second line of defense? They can download two personal safety apps and stay safe on any kind of trip:

SafeTrek: A button on the app works as a trigger when you press and hold it down if you feel in danger. Police are notified and rush to your location. Release it when you feel that the danger has passed and use a 4-digit PIN to verify.

bSafe: This app uses location tracking to keep a group of your favored contacts updated about your whereabouts. They can track you via a map on their end. There is a large red SOS button to notify them of danger.

Many smartphones have their own built-in emergency response features. Use them!

Don't be afraid to talk about personal safety with your student.

Knowing and practicing safety precautions will lead to them feeling empowered, not scared. Informed students are ready to steer clear of dangerous situations. Prepared students are more likely to emerge unscathed from an attempted crime. Help your student be both.

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Suzanne Shaffer counsels students and families through her blog, Parenting for College. Her advice has been featured in print and online on Huffington Post, Yahoo Finance, U.S. News College, TeenLife, Smart College Visit, Road2College and more.
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