In 1986, Jeanne Clery, a student at Lehigh University, was raped and killed in her campus dorm. Her attack spurred the Clery Act, a federal statute requiring all colleges and universities participating in federal financial aid programs to meet a series of requirements to keep students safe.

What’s at risk when you don’t meet requirements? Besides the safety of students entrusted to you, Clery Act violations can result in hefty fines, plus serious damage to your school’s reputation. In 2016, the Education Department fined Penn State nearly $2.4 million for inadequate crime reporting.

A couple of weeks ago, Campus Safety partnered with MIT officials to host a webinar discussing the emergency communications components of the Clery Act, which they call “some of the most complex and concerning for institutions of higher education nationwide.”

Presenters were Steve Goldman, a crisis management expert and lecturer at MIT, and Suzanne Blake, manager of the MIT office of emergency management and business continuity. The two shared five steps to compliance with the emergency communications portion of the Clery Act:

1. Form a Clery Committee

Blake argues that compliance with the Clery Act is not a one-person job, and forming a committee is your best first step towards compliance. At MIT, a small core group expands as necessary to form the committee, whose purpose is to “identify, develop, and evaluate protocols, procedures, and processes to manage, adhere to, and report on Clery Act requirements.”

This committee should meet regularly – at least quarterly, says Blake. It should also gather experts from across the organization:

  • Police/Security
  • Risk Management & Compliance
  • Emergency Management General Counsel
  • Student Affairs
  • Facilities Management
  • Human Resources
  • …and so on.

2. Determine your Clery Act geography

The Clery Act defines your campus in three ways: on-campus, non-campus, and public property to include any location owned, controlled or used by your institution, which support or are used for your educational purposes.

Defining these boundaries “is exceptionally difficult to do,” says Blake, “so we recommend you get that committee together first and create a map of what the Clery Act will cover on your campus.” Expect this map to change often. You’ll need to revisit it regularly.

“The important thing is your committee decides together in an educated way,” and sticks to a rationale that’s consistent and defendable, says Blake. “Have solid reasoning,” she explains, “codify [these locations] on a map, and stick to them when implementing your emergency communications program.”

3. Understand the warnings and notification requirements.

Under the Clery Act, your institution must:

“Issue a timely warning for any Clery Act crime that represents an ongoing threat to the safety of students or employees, and issue an emergency notification upon the confirmation of a significant emergency or dangerous situation involving an immediate threat to the health or safety of students or employees occurring on campus.”

Blake and Goldman break that down in a handy table:

CriteriaTimely WarningEmergency Notification
WHATCrimes that continue to pose a threat.Any significant emergency or dangerous situation that poses an immediate threat to the health or safety of students or employees.
WHEREOn-campus, non-campus, and public property that falls in your Clery Act geography.On-campus only (includes on-campus “public property” that falls in your Clery Act geography).
WHOEntire campus community.Can be tailored to the segment of the community that is threatened.
WHENSent when enough information is available to adequately describe the threat.Sent immediately upon confirmation of the threat.

Requirements also include emergency response and evacuation procedures, cautions Blake. Ensure your institution has “an emergency plan, test it, evaluate it, and publicize it,” she advises.

4. Create clear, defendable policies and procedures.

Document everything. “Say what you do and do what you say” is a quote you’ll find repeated throughout the Clery Act handbook, “The Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting.”

As part of your emergency notification procedures, include:

  • A process for confirming the emergency or dangerous situation.
  • A process for determining the appropriate audience(s) you must alert.
  • Sample content and templates for messages (at MIT, it’s generally [incident] at [location] + [instructions]).
  • A process for disseminating the information to the extended community.
  • Periodical testing and documentation of results (at least annually).

5. Implement your program

Continue meeting with your Clery Committee, revising and improving plans continuously.

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