General Campus Safety Tips
Generally speaking, US university campuses are safe, with campus authorities and local law enforcement taking steps to ensure the safety and security of everyone within the campus boundaries. However, safety and security of the campus relies strongly on the partnership among staff, faculty, the local community, as well as students.
Students are also responsible for maintaining campus safety. By making smart choices and following some common-sense precautions, students can help to make the campus, as well as surrounding areas, more safe and secure. The information provided here is not meant to cause fear nor is it a complete list of safety advice, but it is meant to be a general guide to safety and security on any US campus. Specific campus safety information, such as campus police and local emergency services numbers, specific regulations and laws, and emergency procedures can be obtained through the campus public safety department.
When on the go…
- Have a sense of situational awareness. Be aware of the people around you, as well as what they are doing.
- Avoid walking alone, especially at night or if you are not familiar with the area. Walk with a friend or a group of people, or make use of the university’s shuttle bus or student safety service. Student safety service will dispatch a student safety employee to escort students to their destination either by foot or by vehicle. This service is usually free within the campus area.
- Use well-lighted public walkways that pass through busy areas. Avoid taking “shortcuts” that pass between buildings, through alleys, through wooded areas, or unfamiliar areas. Walk on the side of the road that is away from doorways, shrubs, between parked cars, or alleys.
- Never take rides with strangers, even if they seem friendly and the distance to travel is short. Call a friend, take a cab, or use other public transportation instead.
- Familiarize yourself with the campus area, and know the safest routes between your residence and classes, activities, and other locations.
- Have a “buddy system” by regularly letting your roommates, friends, and family know of your class and activity schedule, your room and cell phone numbers, and your whereabouts. However, do not post your schedule or how long you will be gone publicly on your front door.
- Trust your “gut feeling” all the time. If something or someone does not seem right to you, do not hesitate to change direction and head to a public place. If you sense trouble, call campus or local police. It is recommended to have their numbers saved in your cell phone, if you have one.
- Keep a low profile. Avoid wearing expensive clothing, carrying large amounts of cash, or exposing jewelry.
- Most universities have emergency phones installed throughout campus. Know where they are. These phones typically marked with the word “Emergency” on them, are painted bright colors, and have a blue or red light above it. They have a simple set of buttons that will directly connect users with a campus safety dispatcher for reporting an emergency and summoning help.
In Residence Halls:
- Always lock your door whenever you leave your room, even if you are just going down the hall. Thieves take just seconds to go in and steal things from unlocked rooms.
- Never loan your key to anyone. Each person staying in the residence hall is issued a key and is responsible for it. Always have your key with you when you are out of your room.
- Most residence hall buildings have controlled access, giving only residents who live in the building may swipe their student identification cards to enter and requiring visitors to use an intercom to request access from the building front desk. Do not prop open doors at these controlled entrances. Also, you do not need to be “nice” by holding the door open for others to enter the building as they may not be residents.
- If you lose your key, immediately report it to your residence hall staff.
- If you see someone behaving suspiciously in the residence hall, do not hesitate to report it to hall staff or campus police.
- Familiarize yourself with your fellow residents.
- Some university police departments offer engraving and property registration to students for little or no charge. Take advantage of it and have valuable items like your bicycle and electronic goods engraved with your student ID number and have their serial numbers recorded (never engrave your social security number). This service will help police look for your items should they be stolen (but is NOT an insurance coverage for lost items).
- Some residence halls provide small locked drawers for students’ valuables in each room. If no such drawer is available, then consider investing in a small lockbox for yourself. For your laptop, it is recommended that you invest in a lock for chaining your machine to your desk. These locks are usually available at campus bookstores and computer supply stores.
In Off-Campus Housing/Home-stay:
- Keep doors and windows locked whenever you leave the house.
- Always have your key with you whenever you leave. Never loan keys out to anyone or hide it outside your house in places like under doormats.
- If you lose your key, report it immediately to your landlord or host family. Having duplicate keys is not the solution, as the door lock will require changing.
- Avoid putting your address on a label with your keys.
- Use peepholes to view people at your door.
- Make your home look occupied all the time to deter burglars. Leave at least one light on in your house when you leave. If you’ll be gone longer than a day, tell someone. Ensure that your mail, newspapers, and deliveries will be collected by a friend or trusted neighbor. Have the grass mowed, snow shoveled, and leaves raked by someone while you are gone. If you’ll be gone for an extended period (like back to the UAE for summer), it is recommended to notify the police and have them periodically check your house. Also, avoid leaving messages on your answering machine saying that you are on vacation, and instead create a generic message like “Leave a message” for use anytime on your phone.
- If you have shrubs and bushes outside your house, keep them very well trimmed to eliminate hiding places.
- If the lights outside your home, door locks, doors, or windows are not working properly, tell your landlord or host family and ask for them to be repaired.
- Do not allow strangers into your home. If they claim to be there for a repair job, call your landlord or host family to verify it. Landlords are required to give at least a 24-hour notice before entering your residence. Ask for identification, and if you feel suspicious, simply turn them away—you have every right to know and choose who is entering your home!
While Driving and When you Park your Car…
- Be aware of local traffic laws. In the United States, traffic laws are determined by state and local governments, familiarize yourself with the laws if you will be driving. Always have your drivers’ license with you, and have the unexpired registration and proof of insurance in the car. Obey local speed limits and be aware of pedestrians, construction, and other hazards.
- If you are stopped by police, pull over immediately to a safe spot, turn off your engine, remain in your car, and calmly follow the instructions of the police officer. Be ready to provide your driver’s license and car registration.
- Stick to areas that you are familiar with. If you get lost, do not hesitate to stop and ask for directions at a public place such as a restaurant, convenience store, or better yet, a police or fire station.
- Always drive with your doors locked and windows up, especially at night and through areas that you are unfamiliar with.
- Avoid aggressive driving. If others are aggressive to you, remain calm and ignore their gestures or obscene language. If they continue to threaten you or follow you, immediately notify police and drive to a public place.
- Friends do not let friends drive while drunk. If you notice that someone is drunk and wants to drive, take the keys away. Drive the person home instead, or call a cab. Drunk driving is not just illegal, it can be deadly!
- If involved in an accident, stop and call police. If it is minor, move your vehicle to the side of the road. If someone is hurt, request medical assistance during your police call. Do not leave the crash site until police have cleared you to!
- Make it a habit to always have a full tank of gas in your car. Also, maintain a fully inflated spare tire and complete set of tools needed to change tires including a warning triangle. A flashlight, first-aid kit, fire extinguisher, and jumper cables are also very useful to have in the car.
- Keep your car in good running condition. If a breakdown occurs, call police for help. Pull over to a safe spot, raise your engine hood, then remain in your car with the doors locked until police arrive, unless the car is on fire.
- When parking your vehicle, ensure that all windows are up, sunroofs are closed, and doors are locked. Consider having an alarm system added to your car or use some kind of lock on your steering wheel.
- Park in well-lit parking spots, away from tall bushes, alleys, or other obstructions. If you are leaving your campus building at night and are not comfortable walking to your car alone, call campus police to arrange for an escort. Remember to be punctual.
- Try not to keep valuables in your car. If you really must, keep them out of sight, such as in the glove compartment, under a blanket, or in the trunk. Valuables include compact disks, textbooks, jackets, and backpacks.
When the Weather gets Rough…
- In the US, the weather changes drastically, often without notice. Have the habit of checking the weather daily through the television, radio, or Internet, or by signing up for online phone weather alerts. These alerts are usually free.
- Driving in bad weather is not recommended, but if you must, take the following precautions. Turn on your headlights whenever the weather gets cloudy or when you use your wipers (this is the law in some states). If the road ahead is flooded, do not attempt to cross it. Remember the saying “turn around, don’t drown” in this situation. Drive slower and with greater distance between vehicles when the weather is rainy, snowy, icy, or dark and be prepared to stop.
- Severe thunderstorms are very common throughout the US during the months of April to October. These storms can produce lots of rain, intense lightning, dangerously high winds, hail, and occasionally spawn flash floods and tornadoes. Your local television and radio station will give National Weather Service alerts should your area be facing this. Stay indoors and away from windows during such storms. If a tornado warning is issued for your area, take cover indoors in a small, windowless room on the lowest floor. If authorities are present, follow their instructions and if you are driving, get out of your car and get into a building or lie face down in a ditch.
- Should a hurricane be headed your way, listen to local authorities for how to prepare and instructions to evacuate, should it be necessary. Obey local authorities on this matter and if uncertain about something, ask questions.
- Underestimating how hot or cold the weather is can hurt you! Some locales in the US even experience jumps in temperature throughout the day. Make it a habit to regularly check the temperature—an outdoor thermometer would be very helpful. In the winter, dress warmly in layers so you may take off or put on layers to adjust to the temperature. In the summer, avoid heat injury by staying cool. Drink lots of water, wear loose clothes, and stay indoors if possible.
- In winter, ice may melt and refreeze on sidewalks and roads, forming an invisible layer known as “black ice” that can be very slippery to both feet and tires. When walking, do so very carefully while outdoors to avoid falls, and drive with care to avoid skidding off roads, especially at night. Campus authorities usually try to pour salt and sand on sidewalks and roads within hours after snowfall to prevent ice formation, but exercise caution anyway.