Colleges dealing with bomb threats and other emergencies have to comply with the Clery Act, a federal law that governs reporting of campus crime.
Enacted in 1990 to require collection and disclosure of crime statistics at colleges that participate in federal financial aid programs, the law was expanded in 2008, more than a year after the massacre at Virginia Tech in which an armed student killed 32 people and wounded 17.
Under the revised Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, schools must report annually on campus emergency response and evacuation procedures, including systems to notify students and employees of emergencies. Schools must:
• Immediately notify the campus community “upon the confirmation of a significant emergency or dangerous situation involving an immediate threat to the health or safety of students or staff.”
• Communicate emergency procedures to students and staff annually.
• Test emergency response and evacuation procedures annually.
Penalties for violating the Clery Act, levied by the U.S. Department of Education, can reach $27,500 per violation.
While the penalties can be significant, they typically have paled in comparison to liability settlements in cases of campus violence.
Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, for example, agreed in June to pay a record $350,000 in Clery Act fines for falsely reporting that a female student murdered in her dorm room in 2006 had died of natural causes. The college separately paid $2.5 million to settle claims by the victim's family.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan last month reinstated a $27,500 fine against Virginia Tech for the April 2007 mass shooting after an administrative law judge had thrown it out. Mr. Duncan — who has the authority to review such rulings, and whose department argued that the incident merited penalties “far in excess” of what the statute allows — found that the school violated the Clery Act's timely notice rule by waiting two hours to notify the campus of the shooting of two students in a dorm, shootings that preceded the later massacre. Virginia Tech agreed in 2008 to pay $11 million to settle claims brought by most of the victims or their families.
While Clery Act penalties can be relatively small, they can trigger the filing of private liability lawsuits against colleges, experts say.