Many campus official tighten security against terrorism

By Susan C. Thomson Knight Ridder Newspapers (KRT) ST. LOUIS _ Universities could be terror targets. The word came two weeks ago from no less than FBI director Robert Mueller. About a dozen students interviewed recently at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville said they had missed that news but couldn’t imagine themselves or their university in harm’s way. “No one has ever heard of SIUE,” Chris Hamm said. “I think (the terrorists) are going to go for the White House or something like that,” Adam Tish said. Yet college officials here are taking no chances. Even before Mueller’s alert, they were reacting to the new nationwide orange alert and ratcheting up already tight campus security. Webster University, for instance, took down the American flags on all of its overseas campuses after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and has kept them out of sight. “We want to remove visible symbols that may attract attention,” President Richard S. Meyers said. “One of them is an American flag.” This month, public safety director Dan Pesold e-mailed everyone on the university’s St. Louis campus, saying the university had “heightened the normal security measures.” Similarly, on Tuesday at the University of Missouri at Columbia, Chancellor Richard L. Wallace said in a campuswide e-mail that the university was in constant touch with law enforcement agencies and “fully focused on the safety of our students, faculty and staff.” The e-mail was, in part, a reply to “questions from parents and other concerned individuals regarding campus security.” Washington University has heard concerns about security not just from parents but also from students, said Steve Hoffner, director of operations. “We have a lot of students from the East Coast, and they have been a lot more anxious and aware than most of us in other parts of the country,” he said. Washington University had an emergency management team of high-level administrators and plans in place even before Sept. 11, 2001, Hoffner said. Recently, foot and police vehicle patrols on campus were increased. In addition, the campus police department posted a message on its Web site advising readers, among other things, to stay alert and report any suspicious activity. Hoffner, while declining to be specific, said police were watching some sites on campus more than others. “We hope that we’re taking a common-sense approach,” he said. “We cannot plan for every scenario and every possibility out there.” Like other university officials interviewed, Hoffner said Washington University had received no specific threats and had no indication that it was at particular risk. University of Missouri at Columbia is keeping a particularly close watch on the campus nuclear reactor. Concrete barriers, fences and video surveillance cameras were added after Sept. 11, 2001, and “additional security measures” recently were put in place, a university statement says. The statement also says the Nuclear Regulatory Commission prohibits the university from divulging many details of its reactor protection plan. The University of Missouri at Rolla also has a reactor. Spokesman Andrew Careaga said campus patrols were checking it every hour now, as opposed to every other hour before the orange alert. The university is also testing, for an Illinois manufacturer, a face identification system for people seeking access to the reactor. In yet another security measure, the Rolla campus is monitoring rooms that could be used to get to ventilation systems and distribute poisons through them, Careaga said. University spokesmen prefer to keep most of the details of their security plans to themselves so as not to tip off the wrong people and keep their security activities subtle so as not to alarm students. “If you walked on campus today, would you necessarily notice a great deal of difference?” St. Louis University spokesman Jeff Fowler asked. “I would guess you probably wouldn’t.” Student Leanne Schmidt has seen no difference at SIUE. “There’s police everywhere,” she said. “I see a lot of people pulled over for speeding.” ___ ‘copy 2003, St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Visit the Post-Dispatch on the World Wide Web at Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.