USM safety policies questioned after death of employee

Posted on November 05, 2012 in News
By Kirsten Sylvain

Since University of Maine System employee David Norton was found dying in his office in October five days after he had suffered a stroke there, many are questioning USM’s security and safety policies, including Norton’s mother.

Linda Norton, David Norton’s mother, called for a review of policies days after her son’s death. She wants every office to be checked at least once per day. Her request was met with the response that USM has a great number of offices, too many to patrol daily, but she remarked that she does not care how many offices they tell her there are.

“There’s no such thing as impossible. It just takes change,” she said. “They all agreed that I’m upset,” she said, “but I want change.”

She explained that over the weekend an officer had checked to make sure that the office was secure by rattling the door knob of Norton’s office door in the Science Building.

“They rattled that door knob. It would have taken two more motions to open that door and maybe David would have had a chance,” she said.

She explained her motivation for speaking out, saying that she wanted to ensure that this never happened to anyone again.

Linda Norton also acknowledged the possibility that security officers could learn which employees maintain odd hours and routinely check on them instead of checking all offices. According to her and several other sources, information technology employees, like David Norton, often work odd hours when other employees are not in their offices, putting them in more danger of being out of touch in the event of an emergency. At USM, they also work in a more isolated space where there isn’t much traffic even during the day, a spot referred to by several university employees as “practically a basement.” In 2010, Ann Brushwein, a USM software support specialist for computing died of cardiac arrest in her cubicle during the day, and she was not found until midnight.

The university has responded to Linda Norton by assuring that a thorough re-evaluation and review of safety and security policies will take place. Judie O’Malley, assistant director of Public Affairs for USM, responded to questions about Norton’s death in a statement to The Free Press.

“When something terribly tragic happens within any organization, like what happened to David, it offers the opportunity to look at and assess the organization’s safety protocol and procedures. USM is doing that,” she said.

However, the details of the review at this point are still unclear. “We have no idea how long this assessment will take, or what changes, if any, will be made to our procedures.” Bob Caswell, director of USM Public Affairs, was also unable to give specific details about the review, but he agreed with O’Malley and other officials. “Something needs to be looked at. That’s the bottom line,” he said.

Chief Student Affairs Officer Craig Hutchinson explained in a statement that he and Chief Financial Officer Dick Campbell plan to meet next week to decide exactly which procedures and policies need to be reviewed. He explained why they were going to address the issue collaboratively.

“We have responsibilities for USM Public Safety and Facilities Management respectively,” he said. Hutchinson was also uncertain of how long the review would take, explaining that the timeline of the review had yet to be determined. “It is reasonable to assume that a review will be completed by the end of the semester at the latest,” he said.

Hutchinson reiterated views expressed by Public Affairs. “A review of applicable procedures should always occur when a situation of this type occurs and, as rule, does occur,” he said. “We remain committed to maintaining as safe a community as is possible at USM.”

USM President Theo Kalikow would not comment when The Free Press requested a statement.