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In this section, we review and discuss the most frequently cited “best practices” recommended by various task forces and study groups on how to enhance campus safety and violence prevention. We also present best practices observed at public colleges and universities throughout Massachusetts that participated in this study.

National best practices

In order to gather information about established best practices in campus safety and violence prevention, we consulted 20 reports from various task forces and study groups around the country. For a list of these reports and their recommendations, see the table in Appendix B. Given the specific details provided by many of these reports, it was not possible to consider every single recommendation that was made. We did, however, highlight those recommendations that were the most common. In this section, we specifically highlight those recommendations advanced by at least half of these reports in order of their frequency, beginning with those recommendations that are recommended most frequently. For each, the percentage of the reports including the recommendation is noted in parentheses.

1. Create an all-hazards Emergency Response Plan. (95%)

The most commonly recommended best practice recommended is the creation of an all-hazards Emergency Response Plan (ERP). It is no surprise, therefore, that a Reader’s Digest survey of 135 colleges and universities throughout the country found that over 90 percent of schools have ERP’s in place (see Figure 2). The ERP should have the names, positions, and contact information of persons to be notified in the event of a large-scale emergency. The ERP should be reviewed at least every two years in order to keep it current and updated as necessary. The plan should describe persons and entities to be contacted, and the actions to be taken in response to various emergencies. 

Figure 2: National Practices in Emergency Preparedness

Percent of schools with specific best practices in place

Graph depicting prevalance of practices in emergency preparedness at 135 private and public institutions in the United States. Shows that over 90% of both public and private institutions have Emergency Response Plans in place.

Source: Reader’s Digest College Safety Survey, February 2008.

2. Adopt an emergency mass notification and communications system. (95%)

It is vital that a school be able to communicate quickly and effectively with its entire community in the event of an emergency in order to notify them about the situation and to relay critical information regarding the event. Nearly all of the reports recommended that every campus have an emergency communications alerting system to provide information on the nature of an emergency and action to be taken. The initial messages should be provided in a timely manner and they should be updated as more information becomes known. There should also be multiple means of delivering information so that if one should fail, others may get through.

Judging from the Reader’s Digest survey results (see Figure 2), the vast majority of schools around the country have invested in mass notification systems. These devices range from low-tech alarms and sirens that signal an emergency of some unspecified kind to high-tech electronic text alerts and digital message boards.

3. Establish a multidisciplinary team to respond to threats and other dangerous behaviors (e.g., Threat Assessment Team). (80%)

Many of the reports recommend that schools establish a multidisciplinary team, most commonly referred to as the Threat Assessment Team (TAT). This team should be a standing group for the purpose of receiving and assessing all reports of threats and other alarming behaviors by any student or employee of the college or university. The TAT should plan a course of action for dealing with a problem and forward its recommendations to the president or other senior administrator of the institution. The TAT should consist of persons representing the school administration, law enforcement, mental health, faculty, student services, legal counsel, and human resources functions. 

4. Review and train personnel regarding privacy/info sharing laws and policies such as FERPA and HIPAA. (80%)

The issue of student privacy is a frequent cause of concern for colleges and universities across the nation. There is much confusion about what information can be shared between schools, and between entities within the same school. This confusion must be addressed and clarified in the educational environment in order that information necessary to assess properly the risks and to safeguard campuses may be obtained. Many of the published reports recommended that private information holders should be trained regarding the limits of legal privacy and be familiar with the circumstances under which information can be shared.

5. Have a MOU with local health agencies and other key partners in the community. (75%)

No matter the extent of geographic separateness, no college campus is an isolated entity. It is vital that the school maintain close relationships with agencies and institutions within the wider community that can supplement a school’s resources and provide services. Many reports recommended that schools develop relationships via a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with community partners, such as law enforcement agencies and mental health providers.

6. Practice emergency plans and conduct training. (75%)

It is not sufficient for a college or university simply to have an Emergency Response Plan in place. In order to be prepared for an emergency situation, reports recommend that schools practice and train for these plans. As shown in Figure 3, based on national survey data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the campus police departments at many schools, including community colleges, maintain various approaches to emergency preparedness activities. Half of the two-year schools and two-thirds of the four-year colleges engage in emergency preparedness exercises.

Figure 3: Campus Law Enforcement Emergency Preparedness Activities in the United States, by School Level

Percent of campus law enforcement agencies with specific best practices in place

Graph depicting prevalence of practices in emergency preparedness by campus law enforcement agencies at both 2-year and 4-year institutions in the United States. Shows that many schools maintain various approaches to emergency preparedness activities, with most having emergency preparedness plans in place and meeting with campus administrators, and fewest utilizing campus anti-fear campaigns.

Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics Survey of Campus Law Enforcement

7. Educate and train students, faculty, and staff about mass notification systems, and their roles and responsibilities in an emergency. (70%)

It is important to be prepared for what may occur in the event of an emergency. Many campuses use mass notification systems, but these will have limited effectiveness if students, faculty, and staff are not aware that they exist or do not understand how they work. For this reason, many reports recommend that students, faculty, and staff should be educated about the mass notification system and what to do in an emergency. Student orientations and faculty/staff training sessions provide opportunities to familiarize the campus community with these and other emergency response procedures.

8. Educate faculty, staff, and students about recognizing and responding to signs of mental illness and other potential threats. (60%)

As always, the best defense against violence is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Reports recommend educating faculty, staff, and students about how to recognize and respond to the signs of mental illness and other threats. This will greatly increase the chances of getting at-risk individuals the help they need before their troubles explode into violence. Not only might such intervention reduce the occurrence of violence against others, but it can also help prevent other destructive behaviors, such as suicide and substance abuse.

9. Conduct risk and safety assessments. (60%)

For a school to protect its community to the greatest extent possible, it must identify its safety and security weaknesses and address them proactively. Reports recommend that assessments should be conducted on a regular basis to ensure that safety and security programs on campus are sound.

10. Have an interoperable communication system with all area responders. (55%)

Because schools need to be able to communicate with outside agencies in the event of an emergency, it is not surprising that most reports recommended that communications systems should be interoperable (i.e., compatible) with outside agencies. For instance, the campus police department should be able to communicate with local law enforcement, fire, and emergency medical responders through a compatible radio system.

11. Ensure that all responder agencies are trained in the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and the Incident Command System (ICS). (50%)

NIMS is a system that has been adopted by both governmental and nongovernmental agencies that provides a framework for responding to emergencies such as natural disasters and terrorist attacks. The framework has several components, including incident command, resource management, and communications and information management. ICS is a management concept within the NIMS framework; it defines personnel roles and responsibilities during a crisis. By providing standard response and operation and procedures, ICS makes it possible for agencies that normally do not work together to achieve an efficient, coordinated efficient response. Reports suggest that emergency personnel should use and be trained in these systems to minimize miscommunication and other problems that can occur during campus emergencies.

Massachusetts best practices

In order to gather information about established best practices currently in place at Massachusetts public colleges and universities, the team visited five campuses that were known to have well-established violence prevention measures. These schools — University of Massachusetts Amherst, Fitchburg State College, Salem State College, Bridgewater State College and Mt. Wachusett Community College — represent the range of institution types within the Massachusetts system. Many of the best practices identified for each of these campuses are listed here.

University of Massachusetts Amherst

  1. UMass Amherst has entered into a legally binding mutual aid agreement with two of the towns surrounding the university. Crime data are shared between communities and after-action meetings are conducted with all departments every Monday.
  2. The University has also established an Assessment and Care Team (ACT). This is a multi-departmental group that meets on a weekly basis to discuss individuals who have exhibited threatening or potentially violent behavior. The team identifies and promptly investigates individuals who may pose a threat to the campus community. The ACT includes representatives from:
    1. UMass Police
    2. Residential life
    3. Counseling services
    4. Faculty
    5. Ombuds officer
    6. Graduate school dean
    7. Undergraduate school dean
    8. Director of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention
    9. Undergraduate academic advisor
  3. The UMass Police has received free on-site training from the FBI in interpreting violent writing.
  4. The University has installed 500 closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras on campus. Every main entrance perimeter door is equipped with a camera. Digital images are stored on digital video recorders in the Central Command Station. The Chief of Police sends out video clips via e-mail to all students immediately following an incident, resulting in a perfect clearance rate for these incidents. Camera images are also available in police vehicles via laptop computer. The cameras have proven to be an effective tool at deterring and solving crime on campus. Armed robbery and other violent crime statistics have dropped significantly since the installation of the cameras.
  5. The University is also installing video analytics on certain cameras on campus.
  6. A representative from the UMass Police is included in the design of all new buildings on campus. They are involved early in the schematic design phase so that Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) techniques are included in the projects. The proper placement and type of CCTV and access control devices are also determined with input from the UMass Police. This ensures that seamless integration with existing systems is possible.
  7. The University has published policies on how students should react if there is a shooter on campus. The policies are posted on the UMass Police website at: http://www.umass.edu/umpd/emergencyprocedures/activethreat/

Bridgewater State College

  1. The College mandates that all bags are to be searched prior to entering residence halls. Originally designed to prevent alcohol smuggling, this procedure is helpful in keeping weapons from being brought into the dormitories.
  2. The College has a Care Team that consists of personnel from the following departments:
    1. Campus Police Department
    2. School Administration
    3. Counseling Services
    4. Residence Life
    5. Others as required
  3. The College has an anonymous tip line, as well as a method for anonymously reporting suspicious and violent behavior via the web.
  4. In addition to the Care Team, the College has a Crisis Response Team that actively investigates and follows up on reported incidents and individuals.
  5. The College has a comprehensive mass notification program in place. This includes voice notification, e-mail, text, web messaging and desktop messaging. Landline phones are installed in nearly every classroom and the school is currently considering installing digital output devices in all classrooms.  Written mass notification policies are published, and messages are only sent in the event of an emergency.
  6. All police vehicles contain assault rifles and shotguns. All police have received advanced training with these weapons, including two forms of Active Shooter Response Training conducted by the Massachusetts State Police and a private security firm. 
  7. The College has purchased door-breaching rounds and non-lethal rounds, both of which can be fired from shotguns.
  8. Communication infrastructure is backed up and available offsite during emergencies. This includes the police department website. 
  9. During investigations police officers search student gossip sites, such as juicycampus.com and campusgossip.com.

Fitchburg State College

  1. Fitchburg State College has hired an outside firm to conduct a campus risk assessment. The police, IT and facilities departments use this assessment document as a blueprint for security upgrades and planning. 
  2. The College utilizes Connect Ed for mass notification. All messages are voice-based; however, they have the ability to send text, e-mail and web notifications. Students are sent one test message per year in the form of a greeting from the President of the College. 
  3. Police vehicles have AR-15 assault rifles, a campus master key in a vehicle lock box, bolt cutters and door breaching equipment.
  4. The Chief of Police is a member of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA) and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP).
  5. Campus police officers have received free on-site Active Shooter Response Training conducted by the Massachusetts State Police.
  6. The Chief of Police chairs weekly meetings of the Threat Assessment Team in order to assess the threat of violence on campus. Members of the team include:
    1. Director of Counseling
    2. Director of Health Services
    3. Dean of Students
    4. Director of Housing
    5. Director of Auxiliary Services
    6. Representatives from the Department of Mediation and Student Justice

Salem State College

  1. Over 100 emergency call stations have been installed on campus. All stations are checked for proper operation on a weekly basis. 
  2. The police officers have advanced equipment including weapons, cars, radios, segways, vests, and other equipment.
  3. Landline phones are installed in all 163 classrooms.
  4. All incoming students register for the mass notification system.
  5. Members of the Threat Assessment Team include:
    • Director of Counseling Services
    • Chief of Police
    • Assistant Dean of Students
    • Assistant Dean of Minority Students
    • Director of Residents Life
    • Alcohol counselor
  6. Police have tools to open doors forcibly.
  7. The College has a Central Command Center with CCTV, interoperable radios, and a dispatch system. The Center also handles 911 overflow from the town of Salem.

Mount Wachusett Community College

  1. The College has a Threat Assessment Team that reviews and investigates potentially violent individuals.
  2. The College mandates enrollment in the mass notification system. Individuals may choose to opt out of the system but must do so in writing and have a valid reason for doing so. The system is only used for emergencies and school closures in the middle of the day.
  3. Campus police officers attended Active Shooter Response Training conducted by the Massachusetts State Police.
  4. The College maintains a Be Safe Plan in every building and in every police vehicle. This plan is a blueprint of all buildings on the campus, including photos and as-built drawings.
  5. Some faculty members have received violence prevention training.
  6. The College utilizes the Government Emergency Telecom Service (GETS) card, which allows for priority calling if phone lines are clogged during an emergency. This is a free service provided by the Department of Homeland Security.
  7. The Chief of Police is armed and the College is moving toward arming all officers.


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