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Safety warnings: Everything you need to know

The University of Utah engages a host of campus partners to determine when safety warnings should be sent out to the campus community. Safety warnings are required by federal law to be distributed when certain crimes present a serious or a continuing threat to the campus community.

Recent safety events in Housing & Residential Education and the Student Life Center have raised questions about the U’s protocols and procedures for distributing these safety warnings. The following frequently asked questions address the process for determining when and how messages are distributed to members of the campus community.

What is the Clery Act?

The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, commonly referred to as the Clery Act, was signed into federal law in 1990, to “keep students, parents, and employees well informed about campus security.”

Clery crimes include murder, non-negligent manslaughter and manslaughter by negligence, aggravated assault, arson, burglary, robbery, motor vehicle theft, rape, fondling, incest, statutory rape, liquor law violations, weapons possession, drug abuse violations, hate crimes, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking.

To comply with the Clery Act, institutions of higher education must release an annual safety report, provide a daily crime log and send “timely warnings” to the campus community in certain circumstances. Members of the public can find data for the U on this University Department of Public Safety website.

At the University of Utah, these “timely warnings” are called “safety warnings.”

What is a safety warning? (timely warning)

Safety warnings fulfill the Clery Act requirement to send timely warnings when there is 1) a serious threat to the campus community or 2) if the threat is ongoing and the campus community needs to act on the information. These warnings are required to be sent when certain types of crimes (see full list above in “What is the Clery Act”), occur within the Clery defined geography of the University of Utah campus, public property within or immediately adjacent to the campus and non-campus buildings or property the university owns or controls and is used by students for educational purposes.

Safety warnings are primarily distributed by email. Additional modes of communication include text messages, social media posts and notices sent to local media outlets for immediate distribution. These warnings may be sent campus-wide to all faculty, staff and students. Or, in certain situations, alerts may be sent to those most likely to be affected.

How long does it take for a safety warning to be distributed after an event is reported?

Although the Clery Act does not define a specific timing requirement, the intent of a warning regarding a criminal incident is to enable people to act to protect themselves. This means that a warning should be issued as soon as pertinent, accurate and verified information is available.

At the University of Utah, our goal is to have a safety warning sent within hours of an incident being reported. The timing can vary for a variety of reasons and here are a few examples why:

  • When a crime is reported to U Police quickly, due diligence takes time to intake the report and accurately identify the threat level.
  • Depending on the timeframe, it may be determined that there is no longer a threat to the campus community and no warning will be disseminated. This occurs when a suspect has been identified and apprehended by police.
  • And sometimes crimes aren’t reported to police until hours, days or even weeks after they occurred. University of Utah Peace Officers take a victim-centric approach to the case and proceed accordingly.

Nonetheless, the U remains committed to sending alerts as quickly as possible so individuals can make the best safety decisions for themselves.

Are there different types of alerts?

Yes, there are two alert types required by the Clery Act: timely warnings and emergency notifications. The U uses three levels of alerts that are color-coded according to the level of importance. Red Emergency Alerts are reserved for critical emergencies requiring immediate action—including natural disasters and other situations posing a direct and immediate threat to personal safety. Orange Safety Warning Alerts are issued because of a Clery Act crime that has occurred on campus property, non-campus or public property. Yellow General Safety Information notices are sent to notify the campus community about non-urgent safety matters, such as emergency roadwork, business continuity interruptions or inclement weather. Green All Clear notices have been added to let campus know when an incident has been resolved.


What kinds of incidents require safety warnings?

Any Clery crime occurring within Clery geography that poses a serious or ongoing threat to the campus community requires a safety warning. Because safety warnings are sent when there is an ongoing threat to the community, they are designed to provide individuals with information so they can make the best safety decisions for themselves. The protective actions listed at the end of the alert have been thoughtfully developed with insight from experts across campus to provide useful tips to those who receive them. These alerts promote transparency and accountability while creating a safer environment for all.

Who decides when to send a safety warning?

The University of Utah has a Clery compliance officer who works closely with multiple campus partners (Office of the Chief Safety Officer, University Police, Office of General Counsel, Office of the Dean of Students, Emergency Management, Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, Center for Student Wellness, and ad hoc departments) to determine whether or not a particular incident requires a safety warning. The U also has a Clery Compliance Committee, which is comprised of individuals whose job responsibilities intersect with safety. This group meets regularly to review reportable offenses, identify and develop training for individuals with reporting responsibilities, create and disseminate the Annual Security & Fire Report, among other things.

Why do I receive several safety warnings about the same case?

The amount of information presented in the original safety warning will vary depending on the circumstances and status of the investigation. In most cases, subsequent alerts are provided to inform the community about important updates in the case, new details and the outcome of a case. Sometimes updates are shared to let the community know the investigation is continuing or the situation has been resolved.

Are these warnings a requirement for all universities?

Yes. The Clery Act requires institutions to issue an alert when a Clery crime occurring within Clery geography poses a serious or ongoing threat to the campus community. The U.S. Department of Education emphasizes the importance of making determinations for issuing these warnings on a case-by-case basis using policies pre-established by the institution that align with Clery requirements.

What is the U doing to mitigate the negative impacts safety warnings can have on students and the U community?

The University of Utah recognizes that safety warning messages can have profound impacts on those who receive them and can be triggering for those who have experienced violence. Therefore, they are thoughtfully prepared to both comply with federal regulations and mitigate negative impacts by avoiding details about the victim(s). Language used in the alerts, as well as the prevention and safety tips, were developed with insight and feedback from the campus community, including staff and faculty who have expertise in different aspects related to interpersonal violence, discrimination, mental health, etc. These will be reviewed regularly to ensure the U is using the most up-to-date language and best practices related to safety warnings.

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