Bob Harkins

The Austin City Council approved funding for an Ebola preparedness plan Thursday.
Photo Credit: Mariana Munoz | Daily Texan Staff

As the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department continues to monitor two individuals for signs of the Ebola virus, nearly seven months after the first American patient was diagnosed, the Austin City Council approved supplemental funding Thursday for Ebola preparedness.

The City Council accepted $183,906 from the Texas Department of State Health Services to fund public health preparedness planning and responsiveness for Ebola and other infectious diseases, according to Janet Pichette, chief epidemiologist at the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department.

“We receive public health preparedness dollars [every year], and this is extra money to help accelerate preparedness planning,” Pichette said.

The health department works with the University in times of emergency, such as last fall, when a UT student was monitored for Ebola after potentially being exposed. The department is the initiator of all emergency infectious disease response, said Bob Harkins, associate vice president for campus safety and security.

“In any infectious disease scenario, the lead and dictating agency ends up being Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services,” Harkins said. “For example, when Ebola situation erupted last fall, they notified us of the person.”

The University’s response protocol is the same for all infectious diseases, including the mumps case diagnosed in a student Wednesday, Harkins said.

“[The health department] usually talk about our responses and notifications and precautions and stuff,” Harkins said. “The UHS and the Healthy Horns’ side of the house are the ones that respond and pass information to the campus in terms of what we do.”

Public health junior Angela Yang said she thinks the public health information system at the University is adequate.

“I feel like UHS does a lot about general public health, and what things not to do and how to keep disease from spreading,” Yang said. “In the most recent case with mumps, there was only one case, but they sent out a mass email to everybody before it [got] out of hand.”

The department received $682,000 for the next fiscal year starting in July, in addition to the City Council-approved funding, Pichette said. The money will fund two temporary positions in the public health department for Ebola responsiveness.

“We pretty much have an idea of how to do it because of events in the fall,” Pichette said. “People don’t realize we continue to monitor people for 21 days after they come back from Ebola-impacted countries. Right now, we have two people in our community that we are monitoring twice a day.”

However, the health department is involved in much more than just responding to infectious disease emergencies, Pichette said. 

“There’s a lot that the people don’t realize the health department is involved in, and that’s okay,” Pichette said. “We’re doing our job; nothing’s happening, so you don’t hear about it. When something goes wrong, that’s when you hear about it.”

The funding will not impact the way the University responds to emergency situations, according to David Vander Straten, medical director of University Health Services. 

“We would [still] coordinate very closely with [the health department],” Straten said. “Our specific population would be the students. If there were concerns in terms of students traveling from countries [marked] by the [Center for Disease Control], we could be notified by the health and human services department.”

Photo Credit: Graeme Hamilton | Daily Texan Staff

The Parking Strategies Committee recently announced its report and recommendations for University parking, which include permit rate hikes for at least the next five years. These hikes were solicited in January 2013, when a group of 13 businesspeople released the Committee on Business Productivity’s report for UT. This report called for various rate hikes, privatization plans and budget cuts. The University administration has been faithfully implementing these recommendations despite campus opposition. The Shared Services plan, which called for eliminating 500 staff positions and centralizing the remaining workers (removing them from their home departments), was met with a rally, mass faculty letter, staff speak-outs and a student sit-in, all of which decried the plan as an undue step toward corporatization of the University. Corporatization is an openly stated goal of President William Powers Jr., who endorsed the Business Productivity recommendations and stated that the University ought to follow the “best business practices.”

On Tuesday, the parking committee presented its report at a campus-wide town hall meeting, at the Graduate Student Assembly meeting and at the Student Government meeting. The committee presented on Thursday at a Staff Council meeting. The permit rate hikes are not intended to fill in budget gaps, but simply to increase University revenue. This revenue will not return to the campus community, through employee wage increases or otherwise, and thus this move can only be understood as a business operation that seeks to increase profit from customers. (Bob Harkins, chair of the committee and associate vice president for campus safety and security, told the Texan it is to fund the construction of new parking garages, but this is not the same information that was presented at the town hall.) Indeed, Parking and Transportation Services is designed as a business to begin with, as its sole revenue stream is from paying customers. In FY 2013 - 2014, for example, PTS made about $1.1 million from citations, $2.7 million from permits and $11.7 million from parking facility fees — that is $15.5 million in total. 

This economic model leads to an antagonistic relationship between PTS and the University community it serves, as PTS can only increase revenue by charging the community more. The alternative would be to bring PTS into the public sphere by appropriating University funds to it — in FY 2013 - 2014, however, PTS received a whopping $0 from this coffer. So rather than abide by the cooperative mission of a public university, UT’s proposed permit rate hikes push PTS in a privatized direction. This is an openly stated goal, as the Parking Committee’s report states that the primary motivation is to tack toward market-level rates, which are higher than the University’s. For a public university concerned with affordability, this lesser cost is appropriate — for a business, it is simply lost revenue.

In fact, $0 is a misleading figure. To be more exact, PTS actually receives negative dollar amounts from the University coffer. In FY 2013 - 2014, it had $8 million in excess income over budgeted expenses, and this was returned to the University in its entirety, through debt service and transfers to various departments (such as UTPD) and reserves. PTS has had steadily increasing excess income since at least FY 2009 - 2010, when it was $6.7 million. Every year, however, this surplus has been drained by the University administration — the Parking Committee recommends intensifying this policy, and by Year 4 it has PTS in the red for over $200,000. This is not an unprecedented move by the corporatized administration. For FY 2013 - 2014, PTS had requested additional funds to prevent UT shuttle bus cuts but was denied even though there was a reserve fund of $800,000 from past PTS surpluses. As a result, Capital Metro announced cuts to shuttle routes in the fall of 2013, and these cuts especially impacted financially precarious graduate students.

However, the corporatized University administrators have outright contempt for the idea of affordability. In a Daily Texan news article, the Parking Committee’s chair, Bob Harkins, cited the 2012 Campus Master Plan’s recommendations as another motivation for the permit rate hikes. Harkins notes that these recommendations included the replacement of surface parking lots with more expensive garage structures. However, the plan also states that this will “eliminate spaces that currently provide relatively low-cost options for faculty and staff” — Harkins doesn’t mention this, which is curious given that he was on the committee for the Master Plan as well. The permit rate hikes will obviously exacerbate this affordability gap, but the Parking Committee’s report does not include any discussion on these issues. Whether this is contempt or simply negligence, it is clear that affordability is not a priority of the University administration. 

For students, it’s worth noting that “student leaders” like Student Government President Kori Rady match the administration’s priorities – Rady recently told the Texan that “there’s nothing [they] can do” to prevent PTS from raising parking rates. This blasé attitude is consistent from student leaders on affordability issues, such as tuition hikes. Rather than take initiative to discuss tuition, they consistently wait for UT System intervention, whenever that may happen. Last year, an ad hoc tuition committee pushed through tuition hikes within a three-week time frame, and then-Senate of College Councils President Andrew Clark stated that hikes were inevitable because “we are at the mercy of the UT System.” This failure of leadership continues, as Rady told the Texan he is unconcerned that the student leaders haven’t formed a new tuition committee this semester, and Senate of College Councils President Geetika Jerath said they may simply repeat the ad hoc process.

This contempt for affordability — whether about Shared Services, tuition hikes or parking rates — is particularly outrageous because the administrators have alternative and direct ways of increasing revenue. The most obvious is to request additional funds from the UT System’s massive Permanent University Fund, which currently holds over $17 billion — this is the largest public university endowment in the country. Alternatively, an in-house solution could address the fact that UT has some of the highest rates of executive pay in the country — over 100 (and increasing) University administrators earn more than $200,000. An administrative salary cap at $200,000, an amount that is still excessive compared to the average staff worker salary of $52,000, would annually save $20 million in revenue. The Parking Committee projects that its recommendations will generate $40 million in 10 years — the salary cap, which puts a minor dent in inequality at a public university, would generate $200 million in that same time. Those who want to fight for a public university can sign the petition against the hikes. 

Rathi is a computer science honors junior from Austin. 

PTS officials say a new University parking plan for more parking garages will result in fewer citations.

Photo Credit: Griffin Smith | Daily Texan Staff

Parking and Transportation Services officials say they anticipate a reduction in the number of parking citations they issue over the next few years because of a plan to address the University’s parking assets and reduce surface parking spots on campus.

Bob Harkins, associate vice president for campus safety and security, told The Daily Texan last week that, under the 2012 Campus Master Plan — which outlines development of the University campus for the next 30 years — the University intends to construct buildings on current surface parking lots, creating the need for the construction of more parking garages. PTS is also planning to propose increased parking costs to help fund the new parking garages, he said. 

Dennis Delaney, PTS events/operations manager, said PTS has already seen a decrease in parking citations, as more buildings and projects have taken up parking spaces over the past few years, and he anticipates seeing a further decrease with the implemented parking plan.

“As parking spaces are more concentrated, this would limit the number of locations that a violation can occur,” Delaney said.

Delaney could not provide an average number of daily citations, but he said the department issued 37,923 citations last year.

According to Delaney, failing to pay a meter and failing to display a valid permit are the two most commonly issued citations, with some areas around campus more prone to citations than others.

“The meters off University [and San Jacinto] Boulevard have a high concentration of citations,” Delaney said.

According to UTPD spokeswoman Cindy Posey, UTPD does not issue parking citations but can issue criminal citations for violations of University parking and traffic regulations. 

One type of citation UTPD can issue is called a “University citation,” and the other is a court appearance ticket, according to the PTS website. PTS collects the money from University citations, while fees from court appearance tickets are sent over to the Justice of the Peace in Precinct 5.

UTPD statistics show UTPD officers issued 420 warning, parking or moving citations last year. 

Harkins said parking citations account for 6 percent of PTS’ overall revenue. 

According to PTS director Bobby Stone, PTS is a self-funded auxiliary department of the University, which means that no faculty or staff salaries or tuition dollars go toward supporting the parking system.

Photo Credit: Graeme Hamilton | Daily Texan Staff

University parking rates are likely to increase over the next five years, according to the draft of a report by the Committee on Parking Strategies, which will present recommendations on how to increase parking revenue to the UT community next week.

Bob Harkins, chair of the committee and associate vice president for campus safety and security, said an increase in the cost of daily parking rates and faculty and student permits will be used to support the expenses of Parking and Transportation Services, or PTS, and the construction of new parking garages. 

“We haven’t raised parking rates a lot — less than 2 percent per year over the last 10 years,” Harkins said. He said PTS wanted to keep parking fees down since faculty salaries were not rising and the cost of attendance for students is increasing.

The Committee on Parking Strategies — made up of faculty, staff and students — was created in 2013 after the University’s Committee on Business Productivity published a report titled “Smarter Systems for a Greater UT,” stating that PTS could earn $96 million in revenue over the next 10 years by increasing parking prices.

“Currently, there is an annual gap of $9.2 million between market rates and what UT charges for parking,” the report said. “A rate increase of 7.5 percent per year for 15 years would put UT equal to the market.”

According to Harkins, after the Committee on Parking Strategies did its own research, it determined PTS could more realistically earn about $38 million in 10 years in revenue. The draft of the committee’s report shows the cost of Class C and Brazos Garage resident parking permits are expected to increase $6 and $23.60 per year, respectively. Resident permit costs in Manor Garage are not anticipated to rise.

Harkins said, even if the Committee on Business Productivity had not published its findings about University parking, PTS still needed to look into increasing parking rates.

In 2013, the UT System Board of Regents approved the 2012 Campus Master Plan, which outlines development of the University campus for the next 30 years. Harkins said, according to this plan, the University intends to build buildings on current surface parking lots, creating the need for the construction of more parking garages.

PTS director Bobby Stone said the number of parking spaces in surface lots is presently equal to the number of spaces in parking garages. Once new buildings begin replacing surface lots, Stone said he expects 75 percent of parking spots to be garage spaces.

“The impact that will have on the community at large is it costs me a lot more money to build a parking garage space than it does a surface space,” Stone said. “And it costs me a lot more money for me to maintain that space.”

Stone said, since PTS is an auxiliary department — meaning no faculty or staff salaries or tuition dollars go toward supporting the parking system — it needed to find a way to pay for new parking garages to be able to provide about the same number of spaces the University has now.

The Committee on Parking Strategies will present its recommendations to Student Government, and the Graduate Student Assembly and at a campus-wide town hall meeting Tuesday, along with the Staff Council on Thursday. 

SG President Kori Rady said it makes sense that PTS plans to increase parking rates. 

“Obviously, we don’t want the money to come from students, but there’s nothing we can really do about it, unfortunately,” Rady said. “The money has to come from somewhere.”

Although Gov. Rick Perry established an infectious disease task force to handle the state’s response to Ebola, the University also has its own Infectious Disease Plan Annex in place to implement precautions and decide what to do in case of a possible Ebola outbreak on campus. 

Coordinating responses from several campus organizations, the plan provides guidelines for the University to reduce the spread of an infectious disease and its social and economic effects on campus. The plan is designed to be easily changed depending on which disease it is in response to and the possible effects that disease could have. According to James Tai, interim co-medical director with University Health Services, University officials met Monday to discuss how the plan would adapt to a possible Ebola outbreak on campus. 

Tai said UHS began implementing precautions when Ebola first started affecting people in West Africa, including conducting screening surveys and changing its internal policies to make staff aware of certain symptoms of the virus. UHS has also developed fact sheets about Ebola, screened students coming from West Africa for possible risk factors and changed its telephone triage policies to ask more questions about recent travel, Tai said. 

“The first thing we would do is put information out about health care, hand washing and general conditions,” Tai said. “If the illness spread in Texas, we would look at how we handle triage and phone calls related to the disease. If it moved to the city, we would look at making sure first responders have appropriate protective equipment, satellite clinics and that kind of stuff.”

Bob Harkins, associate vice president for Campus Safety and Security, said the University has created previous plans for diseases such as SARS, influenza and mumps, and would follow state and federal recommendations in the event of an Ebola outbreak. 

“We’ll meet and look at Ebola, and the main question is: If it comes to Austin, what would we do?” Harkins said. “We’d follow what the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and the state lays out as a good Ebola plan and say, ‘How does that fit into our stages?’ There’s no vaccine for it — it’s not like you can get a flu shot — so we could only react to it.”

Harkins said a response to Ebola would depend on where and how students were affected. 

“If a case was reported, say, for students in a class, we’d interview and monitor students in that class,” Harkins said. “If it was in a residence hall, the circumstances would differ — we’d have to disinfect the hall and move students out.”

Tai said UHS’ response to an outbreak of Ebola would depend on the number of people affected by the virus and its severity. 

“It would depend on whether it’s a new infection and if people have immunity to it or not and what the effects of the virus are,” Tai said. “Obviously, if it has a higher mortality rate and affects more people, that’s going to be more alarming.”

The University’s approach to Ebola would be slightly different from previous plans because the virus is transmitted through contact with bodily fluids, not through respiratory contact, Tai said. 

“We’d use personal protective equipment, which involves goggles, face shields, gowns and gloves, which are the same precautions they would follow for a virus like this in a hospital,” Tai said.

Harkins said the plan coordinates responses from Environmental Health and Safety, the UT Police Department, University Health Services and the Division of Housing and Food Services, along with other campus organizations. 

“We’re a group of organizations that plans infectious disease response and monitors things — if we need to meet, we’ll meet,” Harkins said. “A lot of what we do is dictated by the feds and state, and then there’s an independent response on campus to figure out, ‘What does Facilities have to do?’ There’s a response with [the Division of Housing and Food Services], with global response and with the state. We try and monitor what’s going on campus and with the System.”

The plan divides responses into five stages numbered zero through four, with each stage implementing increased precautions as the disease spreads and gets geographically closer to campus. Level 0 involves the identification of a new virus that has not been transmitted between humans. Level 1 happens with the first confirmed case of human-to-human transmission of the virus worldwide, Level 2 is when the disease is passed between humans in the U.S., Canada or Mexico, and Level 3 when the disease is passed between humans in Texas. Level 4, the last stage, occurs with the first confirmed case of human-to-human transmission of the virus in Austin, Travis County or Central Texas. 

University spokeswoman Rhonda Weldon said the University would follow state health department guidelines in informing students of an Ebola outbreak on campus. 

“[The state department] would direct the University as to what we should communicate to students,” Weldon said. “They’re going to be very prescriptive in who we communicate with and what we say.”

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

In the weeks leading up to the Civil Rights Summit, city and campus police have worked closely with each other and the Secret Service to plan security procedures for every moment of the presidents’ trip to UT.

The summit, which will be held in the Lady Bird Johnson Auditorium, will feature 46 panelists and speeches by Presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush.

Bob Harkins, who serves as associate vice president for campus safety and security, said security preparation began immediately after the event was announced about a month ago.

“It’s the type of thing where you always say, ‘I wish we’d had more time,’” Harkins said. “But you do what you’ve got to do in the time limits you’re given.”

Harkins said UTPD will use all available resources over the course of the three-day summit.

“We’ve got to cover the entire event for three days, so everyone is participating,” Harkins said. “Other law enforcement agencies around, for example the Capitol Police Department and DPS, will help us with traffic control.”

The Secret Service met with University and LBJ Library officials and will be coordinating up until the start of the summit, according to Harkins.

“Between the University of Texas personnel and the LBJ Library, there are maybe 35 to 40 people involved in various aspects of the planning and preparation, and that’ll go almost up to the last minute,” Harkins said.

APD Sgt. Jeff Crawford said working with the Secret Service requires extra flexibility from law enforcement.

“Up until a week or two out, we may not even know what the route will be because, as you can imagine with the White House, things change daily,” Crawford said. “We’ve literally had it where they’re putting the president in the car to go to the next stop, and we get an ‘OK, route’s changing. We’re going to this location,’ and we’re having to scramble and adjust and go to a whole new location that we may not have been planning on. We have to be very adaptable.”

Crawford said, while APD will be involved in the overall security coverage for the summit, UTPD will handle most of the security surrounding the LBJ Library.

“We coordinate with UTPD and basically have a division of labor, and say ‘OK, here’s what you’re going to handle, and here’s what we’re going to handle,’” Crawford said. “That way we’re not duplicating efforts and everybody’s got their area to deal with. UTPD handles security at any venue on UT grounds, and we usually handle the route or deal with the motorcade getting him from point A to point B.”

Crawford said that, ultimately, most of the decisions pertaining to security are made by the Secret Service.

“In the end, all of us are supplementing the Secret Service,” Crawford said. “It’s kind of their show. They make the majority of the calls, but we have a good working relationship with them and they work really well with us.”

Over the past six years, the Union Building, along with the Student Activity Center, Jester Center, Webb Hall and the Perry-Castaneda Library, has been the site of more criminal trespassing violations than any other building on campus. These buildings are particularly vulnerable because of heavy foot traffic and the likelihood of unattended belongings. 

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

UT officials face a difficult trade-off between the safety and accessibility of campus buildings, according to Bob Harkins, the associate vice president of Campus Safety and Security.

UTPD crime statistics show that, in the past six years, criminal trespassing was reported most frequently in Webb Hall, the Union Building, the Student Activity Center, Jester Center and the Perry-Castaneda Library.

Harkins said most facilities, while not public, are generally open to the public during daytime hours, meaning anyone can access UT buildings when they are open.

“If you live around here, you understand that there are a lot of people that hang out around places,” Harkins said. “Only when they’re in an area they’re not authorized to be in after hours, or they’re creating some type of a nuisance, do we then approach them.”

UTPD Lt. Gonzalo Gonzalez said higher criminal trespass rates for Webb Hall and the Union Building could be a result of the buildings’ locations.

“They’re right next to Guadalupe Street,” Gonzalez said. “I can tell you that’s why I would guess those two would be on the list.”

Harkins said campus buildings attract homeless individuals because they provide clean water, food and a break from the weather.

Buildings such as the Union, the SAC and the PCL are heavily populated with students, who sometimes leave their belongings unattended, making them vulnerable to theft.

“People will tend to lay down personal property and walk away from it, then we’ve got the threat of thefts that we’re trying to balance out all the time,” Harkins said.

Laurie Lentz, communications manager for Campus Planning & Facilities Management, said while criminal trespassing does not frequently interfere with the management of buildings, trespassers occasionally cause disruption for custodial services personnel.

“It’s sort of episodic — things will happen occasionally and it’ll be kind of a mess, but there’s no really consistent pattern with it other than that typically what’s affected are the restrooms,” Lentz said. “Generally, it would be homeless people using UT restrooms to clean up and they may leave paper towel waste on the floor or splash a lot of water around, and then the custodial team will need to come clean it up.”

Campus Safety and Security is working to install electronic access locks in all campus buildings. Currently, 64 of the 238 main campus buildings are equipped with these locks, which require a UT ID card for entry.

“What those do is they give us the capability to provide a safer environment for students that are studying late in small groups or even by themselves,” Harkins said. “We’re moving through campus as quickly as we can to get more funding to be able to do more of the buildings.”

UTPD is stepping it up with the addition of new SUV’s.  With nearly $15,000 of police equipment per vehicle, new Ford Explorers will endure wear and tear while ensuring an optimum environment for officers to work on the go.

Photo Credit: Jarrid Denman | Daily Texan Staff

UTPD’s newest form of transportation — a fleet of brand-new, police-ready Ford Explorers — cost UTPD roughly $50,000 per vehicle. Campus security administrators had to fight to enable these and other enhancements in the face of wide-reaching budget cuts.

Bob Harkins, vice president for Campus Safety and Security, said departments at all levels of the University were faced with budget deficits, but in the end, interest in campus safety was enough to avert any reduction in UTPD’s funds, which stands at almost $9 million for the 2013-14 fiscal year.

“We protected the people in UTPD,” Harkins said. “We protected their training and their equipment.”

Assistant chief of police Terry McMahan said UTPD’s vehicles undergo a significant amount of wear and tear — more so than the average car — and the department needs continued funding to replace vehicles every year.

“Officers get in and out of their vehicles 24-seven,” McMahan said. “Cars take a beating in this business.”

Harkins said $50,000 sounds like a significant amount of money to spend on a car, but roughly $15,000 of the cost comes from policing equipment installed in each vehicle.

Before purchasing vehicles from the state, the department takes gas efficiency, quality and interior spaciousness into consideration.

“We want our officers to be comfortable,” McMahan said. “Some professionals have offices — University police officers have patrol cars. The car is the office.”

McMahan said vehicles are replaced after they accumulate high mileage or become too expensive to maintain. Once a car is decommissioned, it is stripped down and auctioned off by the University.

“[Our vehicles] don’t accumulate mileage on highways like most cars do — it’s city mileage and that’s tough on an engine,” McMahan said.

Once a proposal for a new fleet is drawn up by the department, it is up to Patricia Clubb, vice president of University Operations, to decide whether to approve the department’s requests. Clubb said she is sympathetic to police officers’ need for a working vehicle and strives to get as much funding for the department as she can.

“There’s a lot of starting and stopping, which causes a whole lot of wear and tear on those vehicles,” Clubb said. “The officers are really dependent on their cars and that’s a big part of what they do … We run these cars into the ground. When they’re ready to be replaced, we step up and fund those new vehicles.”

Although administration shielded the department from significant cuts, Clubb said the department’s cost-efficiency also makes equipment enhancements possible. She said improvements in police technology such as the installation of laptop computers in police cruisers have streamlined UTPD’s record-keeping process, saving the department time and money.

“We can spend more time on policing and less time on the paperwork,” Clubb said.

Currently, UTPD has 18 commissioned vehicles — 10 patrol cars, four supervisor vehicles and four canine transfer units.

McMahan said he expects new vehicles to last three to five years before they are rotated out of commission. 

Clubb said she will continue to stand up for the department and push to get them the resources they need.

“The campus depends on the police department for its safety,” Clubb said. “I think there’s a feeling of well-being throughout campus because of having a good police department. Safety is what they’re all about, and I think they’ve done a great job.”

Photo Credit: Colin Zelinski | Daily Texan Staff

A mass notification PA system linking all buildings to UTPD dispatch is the “missing link” in creating a safe campus environment for students and faculty, according to UTPD Chief of Police Robert Dahlstrom.

Over the last four years, Bob Harkins, associate vice president for campus safety and security, has advocated for a mass notification system that would fill a gap in campus-wide safety initiatives.  

“We’ve got about 160 plus buildings on campus, and what I want is for dispatch to talk to one or all the buildings at the same time,” Harkins said. 

Harkins said there are several roadblocks impeding his project, such as the four different types of fire alarm systems, or “fire panels,” installed throughout campus which have caused administrative issues.

“Technical issues have impeded this project,” Harkins said. “We’ve had the funding and the support. For example, each fire panel manufacturer wanted to protect its proprietary system, trying to deal with the various codes to make sure we’re not violating anything there.” 

UT’s large infrastructure has posed problems for effective communication, Harkins said, citing a failed attempt to set up a fully functional campus-wide wireless network that would have facilitated emergency announcements across buildings. 

“We thought we could do it wirelessly, but we couldn’t get the reliability,” Harkins said, “either because of interference or because of the volume of traffic on campus, we just couldn’t keep the system at an operational level I was comfortable with.” 

Dahlstrom is aware of the problem and said it is a gap in campus security that would supplement current communication systems like text message alerts and ad-hoc computer notifications that appear on computers during an emergency. 

“There are about nine sources of media we use other than the UT loudspeaker to keep the campus safe,” Dahlstrom said. “What we’re talking about is a missing link that we’ve been working on for a number of years, and I think within the next couple of years we’ll get it to where dispatch can talk to these buildings.”

Terry McMahan, UTPD assistant chief of police, said emergency transmissions can be muddled via UTPD text alerts as well as email and agreed the text messaging system has been problematic in the past. 

“We use email, but that’s slow,” McMahan said. “The problem with text messages is that we’re limited in the amount of characters we can use in any one text. So if we send out a massive text and it’s too long, it breaks them down into two. Sometimes the second will arrive before the first. That’s been problematic to work through.”

By the end of this year, roughly half of the 167 buildings on campus will have an emergency PA system installed, allowing building managers to make emergency announcements over a microphone. Full implementation of a mass notification system connected to UTPD dispatch will take longer to initiate, but Harkins agreed with Dahlstrom’s prediction of a two-year time frame. 

“We’re in the process of linking the Flawn Academic Center as our test case,” Harkins said. “Once we’ve done that, it gives us a pathway toward other buildings … When we finish with the mass notification system, we’ll really close the loop on everything.”

Chief of UTPD Robert Dahlstrom will be retiring in May after serving as head of the department for 6 years. 

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

The search is on for a new University of Texas Police Department chief after the current chief, Robert Dahlstrom, announced he will retire this May.

Bob Harkins, associate vice president for campus safety and security, said the University is putting together a search committee to look for Dahlstrom’s replacement. Dahlstrom has served as UTPD chief since March 2006 and was with the Austin Police Department in multiple positions for 28 years before that.

Dahlstrom said he has been on-call with his work since the early 1990s, when he became a part of APD’s SWAT team. He said he is looking forward to relaxing in his retirement and spending more time with his family. His wife retired in May, and he has two married children who are both Texas A&M alumni and two grandchildren, who are two and six. 

He said he and his wife have special plans for after his retirement.

“We made a bucket list together,” Dahlstrom said. “My wife and I really want to travel the U.S., all 50 states, and see all 254 county courthouses in Texas.”

Dahlstrom said he and his wife are fascinated by nature, Texas and U.S. history. Their planned stops during their travels around the U.S. will include Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii. He said his time at the department has meant a lot of hard work and some difficult times, most notably Sept. 28, 2010, when a student fired shots outside the Perry-Castañeda Library and later died by suicide.

“That was definitely the most stressful day,” Dahlstrom said.

He said, however, the good days have greatly outweighed the bad, and he will miss many things about his job.

“I think the people are what I will miss most,” Dahlstrom said.

Harkins said Dahlstrom has helped the department strengthen relations with neighboring departments, overseen multiple UTPD accreditations and led the way on many UTPD initiatives including the Citizen Police Academy. The academy aims to give the public a better understanding of UTPD.

“He is a rare individual,” Harkins said. “He cares about people. He has got a tremendous capacity to outreach and to find solutions to problems.”

Dahlstrom has been recognized for his work dozens of times throughout his career through awards including the Austin National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Professional Service Award, the “Peacemaker of the Year” award from the Dispute Resolution Center of Texas and the 2012 Chief of the Year award from the University of Texas System.

Printed on Friday, December 6, 2012 as: UTPD chief to retire; replacement search on