To keep Groundhog safe this year, the University of Dallas will contract with two paramedics and an ambulance in addition to the usual off-duty police officers.
It is normal for off-duty law enforcement officers to staff Groundhog alongside campus safety officers, but this is the first time UD has hired medical staff and a team of officers who all belong to the same police agency.
“[Security precautions for Groundhog are] a little different this year but fundamentally it’s the same,” Dr. John Plotts, executive vice president for enrollment and student affairs, said.
The biggest change is the addition of medical personnel.
“[This is] to ensure patrons of Groundhog will receive assistance should they need it as quickly as possible,” Catherine Duplant, director of student activities, said.
Plotts said that there is “no big reason” for the paramedics.
“Unfortunately, some students will make bad choices and get sick, hopefully not to the point that they need paramedics,” Plotts said.
The addition of paramedics was the idea of Russell Greene, who has been named chief of the coming police department.
In case of a medical emergency, Greene said that the ambulance also gives added discretion, explaining that:
“You don’t want me treating you in the middle of the field.”
In previous years there have not been any medical emergencies during Groundhog, but Plotts said that afterwards, in the dorms, some students have shown signs of alcohol poisoning and paramedics have been called. However, this situation is not common.
The other change is that UD has hired a team of Irving Police Department officers rather than, what Plotts called “a hodgepodge” of “any off-duty law enforcement we could get.”
Greene said that in the past UD has hired troopers, constables and sheriff’s deputies, but because they all belonged to different agencies, they were not able to communicate via radio.
“Irving Police Department has all the city’s resources at the other end of the radio transmission,” which is a “big advantage to the university,” Greene said.
UD’s relationship with the IPD is “closer” due to the current transition from Office of Campus Safety (CSO) to police department, Plotts said.
UD has already started the process of applying to become a hybrid police department, which will be composed of six police officers and six campus safety officers.
The hope is that UD will be able to staff Groundhog itself eventually, Greene said, although we would “still want to have a relationship with the city of Irving.”
This year, campus safety officers will be working alongside the IPD officers, while CSO will be “the first point of contact with everybody going to Groundhog,” Greene said.
Since Groundhog gathers a large group of people “we have to be conscious of public safety,” Plotts said.
Someone could slip near a fire pit or have an anxiety attack, or a band member could fall off the stage. But the biggest safety concern is “drinking too much,” Plotts added.
“Other than that it’s a very safe event,” Plotts said. “I can’t say we have had any significant injuries ever.”
Groundhog may also be safer now that the event is on campus.
Without the need for buses or hayrides UD has “removed some of the potential for problems,” Plotts said.
Greene has coordinated the security for this Groundhog, said Duplant, who has helped organize Groundhog for the past four years. “Chief Greene has been a wonderful addition to our Groundhog planning team and has added solid ways to improve our operational plan,” she said.
Despite any changes, “Groundhog evokes a sense of pride in UD; it’s quirky, unique, and shows just how committed we are to staying true to our own identity,”Duplant said.“While Groundhog will change every year as our university grows, our sense of pride in celebrating Groundhog and our beloved university will remain steadfast.”