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U of M Regents consider plan for tightening security
Officials at the University of Minnesota are presenting a new emergency preparedness p to the Board of Regents. It's part of larger health and safety policy that's being updated to reflect concerns about possible terrorist incidents on American university campuses.

Minneapolis, Minn. — According to FBI, universities are of a class of buildings considered vulnerable to terrorist attacks, so called "soft targets." Soft targets also include churches, banks, and malls.

Many research universities around the country, including the University of Minnesota, recognized their vulnerability soon after Sept. 11 and took steps to enhance their security policies and procedures.

Though the University of Minnesota is not considered a high-risk target for terrorism, Vice President for University Services Kathleen O'Brien says the new preparedness plan addresses the realities of a post 9/11 environment.

"Certainly the incidents of the last two years have drawn the attention of the institution and all the faculty staff and students to the importance of ensuring not only that we have a plan on the shelf, but we're prepared to put the plan into operation," she says.

O'Brien says the school has already spent $2 million establishing a central security office and upgrading campus security infrastructure, including locks and a monitoring system.

She says the university's emergency preparedness plan includes updates on how the school is preparing for, managing, responding to, and recovering from a full range of emergencies.

"From something as basic as an individual health incidents like a seizure or a heart attack, to a limited incident in a building, to a tornado or a spill because of a train accident, to a terrorist incident," according to O'Brien.

Minneapolis FBI special agent Paul McCabe told MPR that the agency asks soft targets to focus on three areas when addressing a need for increased security.

First is to enhance a building's physical security -- the gates, locks etc. Next, he says institutions need to know who's working for them, particularly the security personnel. Lastly, he says equally important to the physical plant, is protecting an institution's information technology.

The University of Minnesota says its emergency preparedness plans and procedures do include each of those components.

According to Sheldon Steinbach of the American Council on Education, the University of Minnesota is doing what most universities in the country are doing to minimize the possibility of emergencies on campus.

"The university community is taking the code orange potential threat scenario seriously. And are taking effective action to protect a very open academic society," Steinbach says.

Vice President O'Brien says completing the preparedness plan was one of her first priorities when she stepped into her job last September.

Without providing details, she says the university's emergency plan is aligned with state and local protocols for the prevention, management of, and recovery from emergencies.

O'Brien says the Academic Health Center would play a major role in an emergency in caring for the injured. It also continues to be a regional resource for information. She cites the anthrax scare a year and a half ago as an incident that prompted the news media and others to turn to the U for accurate information.

O'Brien says a big part of the emergency plan is communicating with the university community. She says fire alarms will be used as in the past, but she says the plan calls for providing more information than just a fire alarm.

"Certainly a fire alarm says to all of us, evacuate a building. So we're really working on telephone systems and online systems that will notify individuals and give them more information about what's occurring and if they should leave a building or if they should stay in a building," says O'Brien.

O'Brien says there will be costs associated with the increased security procedures, estimated from $5 to $6 million over the next five years.

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