Trail safety evaluated on ‘walkabout’

Do you feel safe walking alone at night? Seven UAA representatives walked the campus Oct. 25 to identify hazards that may cause safety concerns for students roaming university trails in the dark.

Vice Chancellor Gebeyehu Ejigu, Director of Business Services Bill Spindle, Director of Environmental Health and Safety Trig Trigiano, Associate Vice Chancellor of Facilities and Campus Services Cyndi Spear, University Police Chief Dale Pittman, Dean of Students Linda Lazzell and USUAA President Chris Hall met to survey campus trails and brainstorm ways to make UAA students feel safer on campus. The group toured campus trails, noting lighting failures, icy pathways, dark areas that could potentially hide assaulters and other safety concerns were addressed in a conference immediately following the Walkabout 2004, as the event was unofficially titled.

“There should be a sense of security in those areas of the campus that have that ‘feeling’ that it’s unsafe,” Pittman said. “It’s just as important to correct that as it is to identify the areas that are actually unsafe. Perception of safety is very important to the folks that are here.”

Ejigu, who has been employed at four college campuses, said UAA is one of the safest campuses he has worked at.

“For our location and size, I don’t think you will find a better, safer campus,” Ejigu said.

According to the 2004 Campus Safety Report, there were six forcible sexual assaults, 22 burglaries, five aggravated assaults and 10 motor vehicle thefts between 2001-2003. The report includes crimes committed on campus, in housing and in non-campus locations. This semester, a young woman was assaulted while walking alone on a campus trail at 2 a.m.

“It’s always best to walk in groups,” Trigiano said. “Three or more (people) is safest.”

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By walking the grounds at night, the group was able to experience firsthand the areas of the campus that may be unsafe for walkers and bicyclists.

Chief Pittman tested emergency phones for lights and response time during the walkabout. In each test, a board operator at UPD responded immediately and the blue flashing light atop the phone functioned properly.

If someone is walking campus and feels they are in danger, they can push the button on the emergency phone and are instantly connected to the UPD. A light will flash for two minutes after the call is made to alert officers that the phone has been activated. Dispatchers are given the location of the call from the department.

“We can be anywhere on campus in two minutes, a lot of the time sooner,” Pittman said.

The UPD has received almost 215 emergency phone calls in the past two years. Only two of these calls were legitimate.

Proper lighting was a focus of the trail tour. While it was notably dark at 6:30 p.m., Trigiano said lighting improves when snowfall covers the area and light reflects from the snow.

“This is the darkest part of the year. There’s no snow on the ground. We appreciate calls, because we can’t be everywhere at all times, so it’s good to have the extra eyes and ears.”

The group found a string of trail lights to be out during the walkabout.

“The lights are on an automated system,” Spear said.

The system is computer-controlled. Spear made a call from her cell phone to the system manager, who had the lights up and running in a matter of minutes.

“We keep an eye on what’s going on campus-wide,” Spear said of the Facilities and Campus Services team. “We’re here all hours of the day, so we have a pretty wide coverage of all the conditions.”

Parking lots at the Professional Studies Building and trails near the Social Sciences Building have received top priority for improved lighting, but more lights will be expensive to install on the fully computerized campus lighting system.

Other safety hazards discovered on the walkabout included icy conditions and obstructions on trails. Spear said the trails are maintained by on a regular basis. Plowing and salting icy areas are part of regular maintenance.

Ejigu said the safety concerns discovered on the walkabout will be addressed as quickly as possible.

“(We) will be working on these issues over time, starting with the fastest and cheapest solutions and working down the line.”