College Campus Safety: What You Need to Know

Last updated: Dec 18, 2020

Heading off to college means increased independence – no one will be looking over your shoulder, telling you how late you can stay out or making sure you eat your vegetables. It also comes with the responsibility to take college campus safety seriously.

College campuses remain extremely safe environments. However, it’s important to stay alert, make smart decisions and know what to do if an emergency happens. One of the first things you should do when you arrive on campus is familiarize yourself with your college’s safety resources.

Learn Who to Call for Help

Some small colleges rely on the local police department to serve their needs. However, most universities employ their own police force, whose sole responsibility is to protect the campus and immediate surrounding areas. Find out what method your university uses and how to make contact in an emergency (typically by calling 911) or to report an incident.

At the University of South Florida, the University Police Department is a full-service law enforcement agency with 52 state-certified, sworn officers. They are responsible for routine patrol of the campus and residential areas, traffic law enforcement, accident investigation, criminal investigations, dignitary protection, and crowd control at special events.

Sign Up for Emergency Text Alerts

Hands down, one of the most important things you can do to ensure your safety is to register for your university’s emergency text alerts. It’s one of the fastest ways to get notified when an urgent situation is unfolding on campus.

Some of the notifications you might receive on your cell phone include:

  • Safety alerts, such as active shooter incidents, armed intruders, bomb threats, utility failure or nearby severe chemical or hazardous waste releases

  • Health alerts, such as outbreaks of meningitis, norovirus, or other serious illness

  • Hazardous weather alerts, such as tornado warnings or other severe weather events

Obey Emergency Notification Systems

In addition to text alerts, most universities utilize a robust emergency notification system. If your college’s system is activated, pay attention to the directions and do exactly as instructed. At USF, emergency messages are broadcast via the website, social media, desktop computer alerts, digital displays around campus, alert beacons, sirens, and loudspeaker notifications.

Check the Location of Campus Emergency Phones

At many universities, emergency phones are placed strategically throughout the campus. USF has blue light phones on every campus that illuminate at night, making it easy for anyone in need to spot them. These phones allow you to contact the police and serve as an important backup if your cell phone dies or you don’t have service at that location.

Example of a USF text message sample alert on a cell phoneTake Advantage of Nighttime Safety Services

The best defense is a good offense. This is particularly true when it comes to staying safe at night. At USF Tampa, the student-run SAFE Team operates every day from 6:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. They provide walking or golf cart escorts between campus locations and free taxi rides from alcohol-serving establishments to any residence in Hillsborough County.

Register for Crime Prevention Programs 

College campus safety is all about prevention. To learn how you can avoid becoming a victim, take advantage of educational programs offered by your university. Some of the programs offered at USF include:

  • Personal Safety
  • Driving Under the Influence
  • Date/Acquaintance Rape for Men and Women
  • Burglary and Theft Prevention
  • Bicycle Safety
  • Relationship Violence
  • Stalking
  • Responding to Police Officers
  • Alcohol Awareness and Responsibility

Familiarize Yourself With On-Campus Advocacy Organizations

You will likely never have a need for their services, but it’s a good idea to be aware of advocacy organizations on campus, such as the USF Center for Victim Advocacy. They provide free and confidential services to students who have experienced crime, violence, or abuse, on or off campus. Some of their services include:

  • Crisis Intervention
  • Emotional Support
  • Personal and Systems Advocacy
  • Court Accompaniment
  • Campus Proceedings Accompaniment
  • Information, Options, and Referrals
  • Victim Helpline
  • Safety Planning
  • Victim Response Training
  • Assistance Filing Police Reports, Title IX Reports, and Student Rights and Responsibilities Reports
  • Injunction for Protection
  • Crime Victim's Compensation Claim

A Word About College Safety Statistics

If you’re still in the process of selecting a college, be sure to research the safety record of schools on your short list. The Clery Act requires all colleges participating in federal financial aid programs to maintain and disclose campus crime statistics and security information through an annual report, which is typically available on the official college website. Another good source of information is the U.S. Department of Education’s Campus Safety and Security Tool.

For more information about USF’s safety resources, please visit our website.