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UWRF develops team to address safety

March 13, 2008

A possible school shooter, natural disasters and power outages are just some of the events that the newly formed UW-River Falls behavioral intervention team is prepared to deal with.

The team is comprised of seven campus officials, personal counselors and a River Falls Police Department community liaison officer. The mission of the team is to promote student success, including academic, personal and professional development, according to a student affairs press release. The team plans to achieve these goals by identifying students involved in disruptive or at-risk behavior and determining appropriate steps to protect the students and the community.

“We’ve gone through a variety of scenarios and situations with Pierce County, St. Croix County, the River Falls Police Department, the hospital and University administrators,” Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Gregg Heinselman said. “One of the tabletop activities we went through this fall was an active shooter on campus. You basically present a scenario and individuals from the community and the campus are in a room together and [they] walk through all aspects of the scenario.”

In order for the team to accomplish its goals, UWRF and the River Falls community will have to collaborate.

“The success of our team is based upon faculty, students and staff providing us information about students that are at risk,” Area Coordinator for UWRF Residence Life Kristie Feist said.

Being prepared for a possible shooting is not the only function of the team.

“We’ve done a power outage [exercise] and this spring we’re going to do a severe weather exercise prior to tornado season,” Heinselman said. “If, unfortunately, something was to occur on campus we, at least have conditioned ourselves and we have a plan to go to. We’ve tested that plan, we know what works, what doesn’t work and we can address those issues.”

UWRF faculty and staff were informed about team’s creation in a memo.

“As a faculty or staff member with regular student interaction, an effort at conversation is generally advisable,” Heinselman said. “In the aftermath of events like the Virginia Tech shootings, it is important not to perpetuate a climate of fear and distance between professors and students, especially students who may seem odd, eccentric or detached.”

Identifying at-risk students before something tragic happens is key to keeping UWRF a safe place to live and learn.

“With an increase in random public tragedies that have occurred across the U.S. in our schools, I think it’s important to have resources like the behavior intervention team,” UWRF senior Vanessa Orme said.

UWRF junior Dan Carbone wasn’t sure about the student response that the team might garner.

“I don’t think the majority [of students] will respond to the team,” Carbone said. “Most of the parameters for identifying at-risk students seem pretty vague as well.”

Behaviors that suggest a health or safety risk include hostile, aggressive or otherwise disruptive behavior; references to suicide; inability to communicate clearly; disjointed thoughts; garbled or slurred speech; seeing or hearing things that are not there and comments idolizing school shooters, according to the press release.

Some behaviors may be easier to spot than others, but the team wants students, faculty and staff to be looking for odd behavior nonetheless.

“We encourage people to report unusual and concerning behavior,” Heinselman said. “The biggest challenge is to get people to pay attention.”