Thomas Nelson Community College is one of the larger members of the Virginia Community College System, with more than 15,000 students and 700 faculty and staff on its campuses every day at locations in Hampton, Newport News, and Williamsburg. Like all college and university campuses in Virginia, it must comply with state requirements put in place after the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) shooting in 2007 that left 33 dead. Those requirements include having a violence prevention committee and a threat assessment team, and a process by which these groups can detect and address threats before they become tragic incidents.
As a part of meeting those mandates, in 2007, the school’s IT department created an online threat reporting tool for faculty and students to use. But in 2011, when Garth MacDonald, Thomas Nelson Office of Safety and Emergency Preparedness program manager, was hired and joined the Threat Assessment Team (TAT), he concluded that the tool wasn’t working as well as it should.
“What they had the IT folks at Thomas Nelson design was usable, but it wasn’t really friendly. Data could be easily lost,” he explains. The problem was that when threats were reported electronically, they were sent to the TAT, but the first person who opened the report was forced to download it to their computer, making it unavailable to the other team members. “Nobody could see it. And then we had to rely on word of mouth [when] contacting the team, and it made the potential for something being missed more of a reality,” MacDonald notes.
So MacDonald got the go-ahead from the other TAT members to begin looking into other options for reporting suspicious activities on campus and discovered the Threat Assessment, Incident Management, and Prevention Services (TIPS) hotline from Awareity, Inc., of Lincoln, Nebraska. “As we sat down and looked at the tools that we needed to do what was required from the code, we found that the TIPS program was a really good fit for us,” MacDonald says.
In May 2012, after a trial period was completed, and the TAT determined that TIPS was a good $1,200 yearly investment, the school officially launched the hotline in May 2012 through the community college’s Web site.