Partnership with FEMA, conference set for February

St. John’s University and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, have joined forces to plan a two-day conference on campus security.

The conference, which is scheduled for February 25-26 in Taffner Field House on the Queens campus, will include speakers and representatives from various local, state and national law enforcement agencies.

FEMA National Preparedness Officer Sean Waters, and executive director of Staten Island campus and university emergency management, Gerard McEnerney, collaborated to coordinate the event.

“We couldn’t have asked for a better academic partner,” Waters said.

The recent shooting at Virginia Tech and the one that was foiled at St. John’s have made campus security a hot topic.

The averted shooting on St. John’s Queens campus was a strong factor in choosing the school to be the location of the event. Co-chairs McEnerney and Waters said they felt that this was an issue with “a critical un-met need” of being addressed.

“We have a large population [of colleges and students] in a densely populated area,” explained McEnerney. “That’s always challenging.”

In fact, according to a St. John’s press release, more than 594,000 students are enrolled in 105 colleges and universities spanning the New York City area. And with the campuses in New Jersey, this brings the total to 270 institutes of higher learning between the two states. Along with the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, these two states constitute FEMA Region II.

Among the various guest speakers at the two-day event will be Dr. Russell Federman, Ph.D., director of the counseling center at the University of Virginia. He testified in April to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security about the dire need for better communication between mental health services on college campuses and campus security officials.

Such communication, he believes, can help avert further acts of violence. “Universities must be able to get ahead of the curve with resources devoted to the mental health needs of their students,” he testified.

Also present will be Stephen Kempf, FEMA Regional Administrator for Region II who, according to Waters, will discuss the possibility of having courses taught on campus safety. “He wants this to be ‘a kick-off conference’,” Waters said.

Retired U.S. State Department agent Robert McCreight will be on hand to discuss violence committed by foreign students on campuses. US Secret Service deputy agent Robert Sica will also be presenting.

High school campus safety officials are also invited to the event. The nature of high school violence and what can cause mental stress in students will be discussed. “It’s such an incredibly important topic,” said Waters.