Beach & Lampitt: Law seeks to protect college campuses

BY SENATOR JAMES BEACH & ASSEMBLYWOMAN PAMELA LAMPITT

Courier-Post

Five years ago, a Monday morning that began quietly erupted quickly into unimaginable horror and unspeakable tragedy.

On April 16, 2007, a gunman went on a murderous rampage across Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus, killing 32 students and faculty members while wounding another 25. The tragedy of that day ripped apart dozens of families, bringing campus communities across our country together: first in horrified shock, then in mourning and solidarity.

As parents, siblings, neighbors and friends, we often assume our loved ones who leave home to pursue the dream of higher education live in sheltered islands of safety. As we were reminded just five years ago, tragedy can unexpectedly strike our campuses at any time — and the human costs can be devastatingly high.

That is why we partnered with New Jersey’s higher education community to pass legislation to plan proactively for potential campus emergencies. The law we passed will ensure our institutions of higher learning have comprehensive plans in place to ensure the safety of students and faculty.

Whether it is outbreaks of pandemic flu, natural disasters or violent attacks on our campuses, the key to preventing or minimizing tragedy is preparedness.

Our law requires New Jersey’s colleges and universities to file comprehensive campus-security plans that identify baselines of preparedness for all potential emergencies with the state’s homeland security and higher education officials. These plans would have to be periodically updated, and in the event of an on-campus incident, a school’s security plan would be immediately reviewed for effectiveness.

New Jersey’s institutions of higher learning are treasures of our state, sought out by students around the country and the world for their excellence and academic rigor. We must continue to do all we can to maintain their reputations, while ensuring the safety of our campus communities is a top priority.

The lessons of Virginia Tech — lessons paid for at too high a human cost — is that forward-looking, frequent and comprehensive safety planning efforts can help prevent systemic breakdowns that can compound emergency situations. The law we passed seeks to apply these lessons to protecting New Jersey’s campuses. Because no New Jersey school should have to pay that human cost when such tragedy might be prevented.

Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, D-Camden, a past chairwoman of the Assembly Higher Education Committee, and state Sen. James Beach, D-Camden, represent the 6th Legislative District covering parts of Camden and Burlington Counties.