Essential Stories: Protecting Campus, Students' Belongings During COVID-19 Shutdown

Jul 24, 2020

by Greg Williams
Publications Editor

From the earliest days of Florida Southern’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, the college’s team of safety officers and support personnel were focused on maintaining a healthy campus.

FSC seal
FIFTH IN A SERIES of stories about Florida Southern’s “essential personnel” who have kept the College running during the COVID-19 crisis. All faculty and staff have made tremendous contributions to the College in the past few months; these stories highlight their efforts to support students and FSC.
Eric Rauch
Safety and Security Director

“It was a challenging time,” says Safety and Security Director Eric Rauch. “Students were moving out, and with Lake Hollingsworth closed, people were exercising on campus. We would politely ask the exercisers to leave. People would come on campus, self-touring, and we would advise them, ‘The College is closed.’”

Members of the Safety and Security staff were mask-wearing from the beginning, and were committed to maintaining social distancing, Rauch says.

Despite the shutdown, Safety and Security maintained a 24-hour-a-day presence on campus. In accordance with health recommendations, the College sent home all workers who were age 65 and over or who had underlying health concerns — about two-thirds of the unit, Rauch estimates — which left about 15 or 16 staff members to cover all shifts. “They rose to the occasion.”

Several members of the Safety and Security team who remained on campus throughout the shutdown share their thoughts about the experience:

Joe Henson 
Safety and Security Manager
Joe Henson
Safety and Security Manager

“I’m fortunate, because I’m over the age of 65, but I work inside and wasn’t coming in contact with people on campus,” Joe Henson says. “We were able to lock down our office, so we could operate with just one person here.”

During the campus shutdown, Henson took care of administrative duties and provided backup assistance for Director Rauch as needed.

All phone calls to Florida Southern were routed through the Safety and Security office. Personal interactions with other FSC staffers were minimal, since the College was operating with a skeleton crew that included mailroom and facilities workers and a limited number of others. Some outside vendors and construction teams continued to come onto campus, as well.

All of the academic buildings were locked down, Henson says, with keys and swipes changed to prevent unauthorized access. Entry to the residence halls was restricted, as well; only a few students were permitted to continue residing on campus. For several months, Safety and Security officers worked with Student Life staffers to assist students who had evacuated and wished to retrieve their belongings from the residence halls.

“That took a great deal of coordination, especially with out-of-state or out-of-city students,” Henson says. “It was quite a big deal.”

Safety and Security officers also did unlocks for students in FSC’s off-campus apartments, carried out regular inspections of academic buildings and other structures, and sometimes were called upon to escort faculty members in and out of their offices.

An Ohio native and Florida Southern alumnus, Henson graduated as a history major in 1973. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps for three years, then began a 35-year career in law enforcement with the Lakeland Police Department, which is where he met his wife, Debra. He retired as a lieutenant, worked as a vet tech for a couple of years, and has been with FSC for nearly four years. Debra, who retired as Lakeland’s assistant police chief, helps out with the campus swim team.

Bruce Hitt 
Safety and Security Officer
Bruce Hitt
Safety and Security Officer

Bruce Hitt started working for FSC in January 2016, charged with overseeing the safety of students living in the off-campus Lake Hollingsworth Apartments.

When the decision was made to evacuate the College in response to concerns about COVID-19, Safety and Security Director Eric Rauch called Hitt to the main campus.

“Most of the students at the Lake Hollingsworth Apartments moved out when the campus was vacated,” Hitt says.

He walked through the residence halls nightly, checking the security of the absent students’ personal effects. He also monitored the other main buildings on campus. Hitt describes the experience as “unreal — with everything going on in the world — roaming an empty campus that usually is full of life and activity.”

Before coming to FSC, Hitt spent a decade working in local law enforcement. He was with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office for more than six years, then moved to the Auburndale Police Department, where he worked as a school resource officer.

”I believe in treating people how I’d like to be treated,” Hitt says. “I enjoy what I’m doing.”

Jessie Montoya 
Administrative Assistant
Jessie Montoya
Administrative Assistant

Following FSC’s decision to vacate campus for the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic year, Jessie Montoya was part of the limited crew taking care of the Safety and Security team’s ongoing administrative duties.

Her evening shift involved working as the office dispatcher and handling the campus switchboard, mostly. Despite the shutdown, she remained keenly aware of the students’ needs, however.

“Students would come in, late in the evening, to clean out their rooms,” Montoya says. Student Life staffers coordinated the move-out process, and would send the dispatch office a list of appointments to make sure officers would be available to open the residence halls for students and to lock all the doors when they finished.

“Students came into the office to thank us for being here to support them and to keep their property safe,” Montoya says.

Until students arranged to return to FSC to retrieve their belongings, some also relied on officers to check on cars that remained on campus after the mid-March shutdown. Students who were unable to take their vehicles had been asked to leave their keys and contact information with the Safety and Security team, also letting the office staff know where the car would be parked.

According to Montoya, the Safety and Security building was one of the few campus offices that remained accessible to students and others.

“We were extra diligent about masks and distancing, and cleaning the carts that our officers took out,” she says. “We wiped everything down — telephones, counters, door handles. We were setting an example; we need to project what the College wants us to do.”