Stay safe on break

Story by Briana Gruenewald

Friday afternoon senior Hana Steffel and seven of her friends will hop in a car destined for Panama City Beach, Fla. After a hectic first half of spring semester, Steffel is looking forward to a week of dancing, partying and relaxing on the beach.

“I’m pretty excited,” she said. “Also quite nervous and not looking forward to the 19 hour drive down there packed in a car.”

As fun and exciting as spring break trips can be, travelers must be aware of situations that may place them in harm’s way. In order to remind students about safe travel, the university and the Eau Claire Police Department released documents last Thursday detailing safety tips.

Both sets of information remind students about encountering strangers and alcohol safety. The university also addresses world travel, providing websites for international travel warnings.

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Beth Hellwig said the university has been sending out similar tips for a number of years to fulfill the responsibility to care and concern for students. She said the tips are a way for students to be proactive for their own safety.

“We have some very responsible students and … we hope people have a wonderful time on their breaks,” Hellwig said. “But I think that it’s just a great idea to be a knowledgeable traveler … and to be planful and intentional.”

The Eau Claire and University Police Departments sent out a joint news release after working in conjunction with the Center for Alcohol Studies and Education.

Sgt. Chris Kirchman said since having such a large number of students traveling to distant places only happens once every twelve months, he wanted to reinforce the safety tips to keep as many students as safe as possible. The most important thing is for student travelers to stay in groups, he said.

“A lot of students are going to be going to an unfamiliar place where maybe they don’t know their way around,” Kirchman said. “They don’t know what kind of crime is in certain areas of a city. Obviously there’s safety in numbers.”

Steffel said staying with her group of friends at all times is her best plan against unsafe situations, especially since this is her first time going to Panama City.

Sophomore Liz Kerber is traveling to Mazatlan, Mexico next week with four friends and a friend’s father. According to the U.S. State Department, Mexico is still under a travel warning.

While Kerber said she has a “healthy amount of concern” about traveling to Mexico, she won’t be paranoid the whole time and anticipates being comfortable while she is there. The fact that her friend’s father is familiar with the area adds an extra level of safety for her.

“You can get into shady situations no matter where you go on spring break,” she said. “It’s just a matter of being smart. You can have a dangerous time anywhere and you can have a safe time anywhere.”

Hellwig and Kirchman both agree that students should plan ahead and review the tips to be aware of how to keep safe during spring break. The police department news release can be accessed on the UW-Eau Claire website.