President Bush signed H.R. 4137, the “Higher Education Opportunity Act” into law. The legislation, the first reauthorization of the Higher Education Act in 10 years, contains provisions that affect campus safety and security. The act requires an annual fire safety report on student housing. The act also establishes a U.S. Department of Education Student Safety and Campus Emergency Management grant program that provides a new source of financing for colleges and universities to acquire and install electronic physical solutions.

The grant program initially did not make any provisions specifically for physical security investments, but through hard work by the Security Industry Association (SIA), Alexandria, Va., the legislation signed into law was revised to allow colleges and universities to use grant funds for the “acquisition and installation of access control, video surveillance, intrusion detection, and perimeter security technologies and systems.”

“SIA advocated a holistic approach to campus safety, but the original bill did not provide for physical security in the grant program, leaving a major piece missing,” Don Erickson, SIA’s director of government relations, pointed out.

“SIA worked to modify the grant program so that it can be used for electronic security and give campus security directors access to all the tools they need to create a safer campus.”

Erickson also pointed out that in relation to the security industry, the revised grant program “creates additional end users for the industry, generates new people to buy systems and provides the means for them to do so, and — for a lot of companies in our industry — enhances their ability to gain greater penetration in the higher education market.”

John Chwat, director of government relations for the National Burglar & Fire Alarm Association (NBFAA), Irving, Texas, said the NBFAA supports the work done by SIA on the language of the grant program. He also pointed out that the required annual fire safety report is a major step forward.

The act requires institutions with on-campus housing to annually publish a fire safety report that provides statistics on a dormitory-by-dormitory basis. The report must be shared with the campus community and the U.S. Secretary of Education, and it must detail such information as the number of fires, deaths, injuries, fire drills, fire-related property damage and the type of fire detection systems in each building.

“The act does urge the installation of fire protection technologies, and it makes Congress aware of the technologies available and their importance, which is an important change for our industry,” Chwat said.

Chwat detailed that the act asks that the Secretary of Education “coordinate with nationally recognized fire organizations and reps of colleges to identify NFPA standards and installation equipment and protection technologies in student housing.”

“We intend to work with the Department of Education next year to start to reach out to these groups to make sure the Department of Education and colleges are aware of fire alarms and that there is a balanced approach to support both sprinklers and alarms,” Chwat said.

Security on Campus Inc., King of Prussia, Pa., has advocated for safer campuses across America for two decades. Its founders, Howard and Connie Clery, started the non-profit organization in 1986 after their daughter, Jeanne Clery, was murdered in her college dorm room.

“This new Higher Education Act provides more opportunities for the security industry and campus security directors to create and implement effective, efficient solutions and increases the safety of students on campuses,” Jonathan Kassa, executive director of Security on Campus, pointed out. “It will enable schools to invest more heavily in new technologies, to implement the best practices, and it will keep a focus on all aspects of safety and security.”