Director of Public Safety addresses audit’s concerns

In a time when the University administration faces intense pressure to enhance campus safety, Bruce Benson sees possibilities.

Hired as director of the new Public Safety Division on Jan. 14, Benson’s focus turned to the heightening of campus safety and implementation of a permanent emergency response structure central to the emergence of this division. USF has a decentralized security and law enforcement system on campus with little or no means of conveying information to each other. This issue, along with many others addressed in the Hallcrest Security Report, is on what Benson is calling his “to-do list.” The report was developed by an impartial security company which evaluated current conditions on campus. Benson said he is in the process of tackling the first few issues raised in the report.

“The consultant report suggested to pull together all safety-related agencies and employees into one division of public safety bring fragmented safety resources together,” he said. “We need to pay attention to more current safety needs that come up, whether it be safety for a hurricane or shooting, and I think we have gotten a good start on those issues.” He said the University has started to converge some of these safety units together to work with the University Police, AlliedBarton and Parking enforcers. Benson acknowledges that he has a long and tough road ahead of him but said he plans to address some of the issues raised in the report and wants to fix them. Looking ahead, he says he needs a full-time emergency manager and cites the governor’s task force of 11 campuses as vital to regional emergency preparedness. Other topics high on his list are communication and dispatch. By bringing all the security forces together, Benson said the University can operate in the most efficient and resource effective way to handle any situation on campus, in any location.

“Officials will be fully prepared to deal with any issue that could possibly occur on campus,” he said. “All campus security officials will have increased training, and we will have 42 additional security people.”

In a statement released by the University in January, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Carl Carlucci said Benson is a “seasoned university administrator with an extensive background in strategic planning and management and a breadth of experience that ranges.”

The Public Safety Division is first in line for a building specifically for housing security officials and will have an emergency operation center, training room for police and community room. The building will be accessible to safety officials and students as well. The building committee plans to place this building on the north side of campus. He projects this enhanced training to be completed in about a month. The security officials will use access cards and help in situations that would normally involve outside sources such as the Tampa area police department.

In addition, parking enforcers, security officers, and members of AlliedBarton will be fully trained in traffic control. Benson acknowledges the difficulties the University faces with the development of this new security division during budget cutbacks. However, he said consolidating all of these different departments into one unified division would ultimately save money.

“By bringing all of these security departments together, we have the opportunity to save the University money, avoid duplication, consolidate resources and be able to purchase supplies and equipment more centrally” he said. “This is a way to do it better.”

Benson said he hopes to improve already existing security measures and have various security systems set in place by fall, including restricting access to the campus after certain hours and creating a better warning system to notify students in the wake of a natural disaster or emergency.

“More than half the arrests on campus have no affiliation with USF. Restricting some access to USF during later hours would harden the target of the campus,” he said.

He said students should use the mobile communication system Mo-Bull, which sends a text message to notify students in case of an emergency.

“This is a great system, but only 12,000 students are registered for all four campuses,” Benson said. He also wants to install a siren or speaker system that can easily signal anyone on campus of a disaster. He has George Ellis, USF’s associate vice president of information technologies, working on the technological means for enhancing USF security. Benson hopes to make Mo-Bull mandatory for all students when they enter their phone numbers into the system, but they will be given an opt-out option, he said. “The challenge is always the resistance to change; getting everyone involved in the process, but I would like to see everyone working together to implement these changes for a safer campus by fall,” he said.