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Thinking safe this fall

- September 4, 2015

The DalSafe app, available for Apple, Android and Blackberry devices. (Danny Abriel photo)
The DalSafe app, available for Apple, Android and Blackberry devices. (Danny Abriel photo)

University brings with it many new experiences for students, especially those entering into their first year. A lot of students are living away from home for the first time, making new friends in a new place, and finding new experiences (and sometimes pushing their personal boundaries) when out socializing.

As exciting as those experiences can be, it’s important for students to balance that thirst for adventure with a sense of personal safety, says Jake MacIssac, community safety officer for Dalhousie’s security services.

“While Dal is a very safe university, things happen,” says MacIssac. “People need to make sure that while the good times roll, they are dialled into an understanding of what to do if something goes wrong.”

MacIssac plans to play his part in the coming days by informing students in residence meetings and orientation-week sessions about the services his team offers and ensuring they know they’ve also got a role to play in keeping the university safe.

With a new academic year about to begin, MacIssac sat down with Dal News to help outline some top safety tips for students.

Download the DalSAFE app

This free app — available on iOS, Android, and BlackBerry platforms — makes it easy for students to get in touch with Dal’s security team by enabling simple push-button access to all of its different services in one portal. Rather than having to remember or look up different phone numbers, students can now just open the app and tap to call a Tiger Patrol shuttle, report something directly to Dal Security offices, or call for help from partners such as the Mobile Mental Health Crisis Unit or local police.

The app also features GPS-enabled maps of all Dal campuses, a voluntary push-notification service, and other important security tips and information on how to respond to threats or critical incidents. As rare as emergencies are, the app does include a feature called the duress alarm that immediately opens a phone line to Dalhousie’s Security Emergency Centre and relays important information about the user’s location back to security staff. “It’s like ‘blue light’ in your pocket,” says MacIssac, referring to the emergency phones around campus.

Speak up

“If you see something, say something,” says MacIssac. While he and the Dal Security team help keep the university safe by gathering information and relaying it to the university community, they also rely on students and others to be partners in the process. That means keeping an eye on what’s happening with the people around you and reporting incidents, even when you don’t have all the facts. “If something doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t,” he says.

Security officers will either respond or help students navigate to the appropriate service, whether it is the Human Rights, Equity & Harassment Prevention (HREHP) office, Counselling Services or local police. “We will not leave you without an action,” says MacIssac. By looking out for one another and speaking up, students can help to prevent or disrupt incidents of sexual assaults or suicide.

Rethink sexual assault

One of the biggest misconceptions about sexual assault revolves around who is most likely to be the perpetrator. While it’s only natural to consider a stranger a bigger threat, the reality is that many sexual assaults are carried out by an acquaintance, says MacIssac. Often it is someone who has prepared for the situation by getting close or taking advantage of a situation where the other person is intoxicated or more vulnerable than usual, he says. Learn more about what constitutes sexual assault as well as the supports available on campus.

Think about your drinking

One of the best ways to stay safe is by being responsible if you drink alcohol. If you are going to consume more than a few drinks, make sure you are aware of your surroundings and have someone nearby who can help you if need be, says MacIssac. Never accept an open drink and keep an eye on your glass or bottle should you put it down while at a party or bar. Programs like Dal After Dark also provide low-cost or free activities to students looking for an alternative to drinking.

Protect yourself and your belongings

Perhaps the best way of keeping safe is by being smart about your choices. If you don’t have time to call Tiger Patrol — Dal’s free, evening shuttle service — or enlist a friend to walk you home at night, always use well-lit and well-travelled paths. Keep windows and doors locked if you are working alone at night, trust your instincts and remember that you have the right to protect yourself.

MacIssac encourages students to be vigilant about protecting their belongings, too. “Dal feels safe and so people do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do in other places,” he says, like leaving a laptop unattended at the library. “These are public access places and people target them.”

Visit Dal Security online
, follow them on Twitter @dalsecurity and download the DalSAFE app for more information.

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