Clery Act’s Role in Security Measure Alerts for Today’s Colleges & Universities

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This article was previously published by Campus Security & Life Safety Magazine

Keeping our nation’s college and university population safe and secure requires the partnership of college administrators, law enforcement and security professionals. Many campuses are ramping up their security to ensure that their students, staff and visitors continue to remain safe and to ensure that their reputation as a safe and secure place of study remains intact.

In April of 1986 Jeanne Clery, a 19-year old Lehigh University college student was brutally raped and murdered in her campus resident hall by Joseph M. Henry. At Henry’s trial, it was uncovered that the attack on Clery was one of 38 violent crimes recorded at the University in three years but were never publicly reported. Clery’s parents sued Lehigh University and won.

The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act or Clery Act is a consumer protection law that helps prospective students and their families understand the safety and security of one academic institution versus another.  Signed into law in 1990, the Clery Act is a federal statute which mandates that colleges and universities are responsible for making public any crimes that happen on their grounds every year. The crimes monitored include sex offenses (forcible/nonforcible, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking), robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft, arson and arrest.

Timeliness Critical to Saving Lives and Reputations

“On the morning of April 16, 2007, student Seung Hui Cho shot a man and a woman in a dormitory; both died from their wounds,” reported The Washington Post.  “Police initially believed the case was a domestic dispute and that there was no threat to the rest of the university, so school officials did not warn the rest of the community. By the time Virginia Tech officials sent a warning hours later, Cho had stormed through Norris Hall, killing 30 others and himself.”

Virginia Tech was required to pay fines from the U.S. Department of Education, but the graver loss was the mass loss of lives, as well as the tarnished reputation of the university. The deadly shooting at Virginia Tech forced a conversation about whether the Clery Act timely warning requirement provided enough of a mechanism to warn the campus about immediate emergencies like an active shooter incident.

Today, campuses are required to implement a comprehensive assessment plan and process to ascertain if there is a significant emergency or perilous situation that warrants a notification to the campus community.  Emergency notifications became a Clery Act requirement in 2008 as part of the Higher Education Act.

Under the Clery Act, colleges prepare, publish and distribute an annual security report that includes three years of campus crime statistics and policy statements.

Timely Warnings Mandated by Clery Act 

Active shooter incidents on campus raise questions as how institutions can best prepare for the unexpected and prevent future incidents. The Clery Act requires a structured campus crime response which mandates timely warnings, alerting members of the campus community if there are any immediate or ongoing threats.

Issuing an over-abundance of timely warnings can diminish the impact of the alert, so developing the particular criteria of what warrants the alert is critical. The Clery Center, a national nonprofit organization founded in 1987 that empowers colleges and universities to create safer campuses, offers a checklist to help guide a comprehensive and effective timely warning and emergency notification process.

“Developing policies and procedures and analyzing when it is or is not necessary to issue a timely warning in response to a situation that arises on campus can be a challenging task,” reports The Clery Center. “Institutions are constantly weighing the needs of individuals versus the needs of the overall community when making decisions about how and when to issue such warnings.” 

Hence, the creation of a ‘timely warning team’ is warranted. That team generally includes public safety, private security, deans and key stakeholders.  The team should oversee the full breadth of the organization without being too cumbersome as to become less effective. 

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About the Author: Stephen R. Aborn is Director of Higher Education at Allied Universal®--a leading security and facility services company in North America with over 230,000 employees and revenues over $8.4 billion. Allied Universal provides unparalleled security services and technology solutions. Additional information about Allied Universal is available at Stephen Can be reached at