Kris Irwin’s heart sank on April 16, 2007, when a shooter took 32 lives on the campus of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. Irwin, Randolph’s director of safety and security, began his law enforcement career in the Town of Blacksburg and at Virginia Tech.
“It was a day of sadness for me because I still know folks, and I continue to have a relationship with faculty, staff, and the police officers in Blacksburg,” said Irwin, who came to Randolph in 2005.
That day, when so many sat stunned and grieving, his thoughts focused on Randolph and the hundreds of community members he and his staff are committed to protecting.
Security officials and police departments across the nation made a point to learn from the tragedy at Virginia Tech and have used those lessons to strengthen campus security. “From that came many things that required us all to change and adapt,” Irwin said.
Since then, Irwin has led the charge to revolutionize safety and security within the Red Brick Wall. A few of those changes involve new equipment, like security cameras, and additional training.
Tory Brown ’13 said all of those things help him feel comfortable on campus. However, it is the caring attitudes of Randolph’s security officers that really make a difference. He often sees them on campus, knows most of them by name, and stops to talk with them.
“It’s good to know that they’re always on patrol and they’re always there to help,” Brown said.
One of the first changes that took place under Irwin’s tenure was the installation of additional emergency phones. More than 30 phone systems dot the campus. The phones provide an immediate connection to on campus communications operators.
The College also installed two emergency alert sirens that can be heard across campus. The wailing sirens are activated during emergencies and are tested quarterly. Randolph’s emergency system also sends alerts via e-mail and text messages to students, faculty, staff, and parents who sign up to receive those notifications.
Recently installed cameras monitor parking lots, residence halls entrances, and other places on campus. The goal of having cameras is to deter potential problems before they happen. “Cameras tend to make those who want to do wrong think twice,” Irwin said.
Kim Napier, a Randolph security officer on patrol since 2005, opted to go beyond the basic first aid training officers normally receive.
“I went ahead and got my EMT certification, just because I thought we need something more,” said Napier. The process was rigorous and included more than 100 hours of instruction, training, and testing. “I hope students feel a little more comfortable knowing there are first responders here 24 hours a day,” she added.
She now volunteers on the Lynchburg Lifesaving Crew, and she has helped the College acquire emergency medical equipment.
Another security officer, Bailey Branch, has been an EMT for 13 years and is a lieutenant for a volunteer fire department nearby. “I can bring all my skills to Randolph College to use as needed,” he said.
All nine members of the security team are certified in basic first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and the use of automatic electronic defibrillators. They also are certified as Campus Security Officers in Virginia.
The state created this certification after the Virginia Tech tragedy to ensure officers serving public schools had appropriate training.
“Private institutions are not required to do it,” Irwin said. “But we wanted our officers to have that additional training because it’s important.”
The changes to facilities and training have strengthened campus safety, said Terry Bodine, interim dean of students and director of residence life. But she said the personalities of the security officers enhance the campus community.
“Our security officers are personable and make an effort to get to know students by name,” Bodine said. “As a result, students understand that the security staff genuinely cares about campus safety and student wellbeing.”
Angela Greene, lead security supervisor, usually patrols the campus in the evening. “I do believe that the College is safe,” she said. “We all look out for one another.”
She frequently stops to chat with students as they relax after classes. She knows many students by name, and many of them know her. They trust her and open up to her.
“If they’ve had a problem in the past that they’ve come to me about, I check in on them,” Greene said.
Winning the trust of campus community members is a natural part of keeping the campus safe, Irwin said. “The officers are part of the community, and they’re here to support the community in any way they can.”
Efforts to enhance campus security never stop, Irwin said.
“The current safety record of the college is a very good one, and we want to maintain that and continue that record going forward,” he added. “We will continuously grow and change as needs arise.”