Residence hall safety an issue

Eric Wellhausen began his career at Kansas University like most freshmen. He arrived from home, excited about college and ready to meet hundreds of new students.

That’s what makes parents nervous.

Wellhausen, who came to KU from Mount Prospect, Ill, fell from a ledge outside his room on the seventh floor of Oliver Hall and died almost instantly on Sept. 12.

College brings new privileges, responsibilities and dangers to freshmen who find themselves on their own for the first time. Making the college experience safe is a priority for Ken Stoner, director of student housing.

After Wellhausen fell, the student housing department attached two stickers to each window able to be opened at all the residence halls. One is on the glass and warns that removing the stickers would bring a $125 fine. The other is attached to both the screen that covers the window and the frame beside it. If that sticker is damaged — signs a student has tampered with his screen — the fine is imposed.

“It calls more attention to it,” Stoner said of the system. “It’s an additional reminder to the students and any reminders about safety are helpful in the scheme of things.”

Students are not able to access the ledges on the outside of the halls, meant to shield sun from the windows below, without removing the screen. Stoner said no fines have been given since the program began last semester.

Julie Coleman, Naperville, Ill., freshman, said the heavy fine accompanying the stickers kept most students from messing with them, though she didn’t worry about that kind of accident anyway.

“It’s scary,” she said. “But I don’t think I would get out on a ledge. It’s something you can prevent.”

More troublesome to Coleman was the threat of theft. She said she didn’t know of any theft where she lived on the 10th floor of Ellsworth Hall, but that she had heard items were taken from a room on the third floor.

TO CRACK DOWN ON FALSE ALARMS, some residence halls have placed covers on fire alarms. When the cover is pulled, resident assistants at the front desk of residence halls are notified.

Stoner said students had to become accustomed to being in charge of their belongings.

“One of the big things with students is that when you’re raised at home there’s a front door and a bedroom door,” he said. “Mom and dad were in charge of the front door.”

When those two doors become the same thing, students sometimes forget to lock up when they leave or go to sleep, Stoner said.

Lindsey Powers, Minnetonka, Minn., freshman, said the main issue was how hard it can be to keep track of personal items in a large, communal setting.

“It’s not a problem with people coming into your room, but with leaving your things around,” she said.

For example, she said, she had left some of her toiletries in a communal bathroom and they disappeared.

Safety isn’t a concern for Michael Ciaccio, Omaha, Neb., sophomore.

“The 11 to 7 check-in definitely makes me feel safe,” he said. “And there’s always someone at the front desk watching who goes in and out.”

Monitors at front desks in all KU resident halls keep track of the building 24 hours a day. Between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. the buildings go on security hours. Anyone allowed in the building must have identification that designates them as a resident, or be checked in as a guest of a resident. Monitors also go through halls at night.

Other important safety considerations, Stoner said, involve choosing what types of appliances to bring to college. Anything that has an open flame, such as candles, or an exposed heating coil, like a hot plate, are banned in residence halls.

He also recommended bringing only appliances that have an automatic safety switch that turns the appliance off if it overheats.

Extension cords are also not allowed in residence halls because they have a chance of causing an electrical fire. He said students should instead bring power strips with breakers in them that regulate the amount of energy going through in case of a power surge.