Five Points of Inspection for Higher Education Security

by Elizabeth Kennedy on Mar 15, 2016 11:00:00 AM


For many, college is the best four years of life: freedom, friends, and fun typically permeate the college experience. Unfortunately, random acts of violence have tainted the college experience with increasing frequency in recent years. Universities now have many options for prevention, prediction, and protection in the case of an emergency. Upon touring a campus, it is now commonplace that students and parents demand to know how students are protected on campus in the event of a threat. Is your campus prepared to answer to these criteria?

Consider How Your Strategy Will Work in Real Time

Speed and efficiency are key in addressing a real-world security scenario. Virginia Tech was fined $32,500 by the federal government for not adequately notifying students and staff during the April 16, 2007 campus massacre. The mass notification email was sent more than two hours after the initial campus shooting. By the time the second notification email was received, the massacre was over and more than 30 people were dead.

To avoid tragedies such as this, higher education needs to ensure that mass notification systems can be triggered for an immediate campus-wide response. Email alone is not always enough; systems can use text messaging or even call cell phones to notify students and staff in the case of an emergency. In a real-world emergency, time is always of the essence and students and staff need to be prepared.

The most effective approach for tackling real-world scenarios is to conduct trainings to confront what a real-world scenario would be like. Ensuring that emergency procedures in response to mass notification or to activate a mass notification are being practiced correctly are an essential part of maintaining everyone’s safety. One approach for ensuring that educators and staff will be able to properly respond during a real threat is to offer a scenario to which a staff member must decide how to respond, rather than offering the notification and just having the staff respond to the notification. This encourages staff to think how they would respond in a real scenario rather than just learning how to respond to a mass notification message.

Social Media Monitoring for Prevention

Imagine if every university had the power to help prevent a massacre before it began. The truth is, they already do. Social Media monitoring is becoming increasingly prevalent in usage on university campuses not only because of its frequency of use amongst students, but its efficacy in thwarting threats to campus.

Although there are potential risks and privacy questions that often arise when discussing social media monitoring, schools that have already employed the use of this are seeing overwhelming results. There was an incident in Kennedy, Arizona in which a social media monitoring program helped a school locate a student that announced on social media that he was planning to kill a teacher and classmate on campus. Authorities were able to locate the student and ended up uncovering an automatic weapon from his home. It was believed that social media monitoring saved lives and prevented the action from happening at all.

A more tragic example comes from Washington state, in which a student opened fire at his high school on October 24, 2014 and killed five students. Upon examining this student’s Twitter feed, it came to light that this student had been posting tormented messages in the weeks leading up to his actions. Authorities believe that social media monitoring could have prevented the devastating murders. What was considered to be an unpredictable tragedy actually may have been detected if social media monitoring was in use.

Social media monitoring continues to increase in efficiency and widespread use. Features are continually added to help universities leverage social media to prevent tragedies on their campuses. Every university should consider integrating social media monitoring into their security practices.

Learn How Well Your Organization Responds to Threats

The gravest mistake a university could make is underestimating preparedness in response to threats on campus.

It’s important for universities to consider the entire process of threat response from start to finish. For example, one of the challenges in mass notification is scripting an efficient message expeditiously in response to a threat. This puts a lot of pressure on the dispatcher to create this message. Creating templates for different kinds of threats alleviates this pressure and streamlines this portion of the emergency response process. Practicing scenarios start to finish as if they were real-world is the most effective way to diagnose how an organization responds to threats.

Realistically assessing the efficiency of current safety procedures is the only way to develop the most effective course of action in the event of a real emergency. This includes identifying higher risk areas on campus and determining how to cover them, accurately assessing the reach of mass notification and making adjustments – any hole in a security plan must be addressed.

Practice in a Wide Array of Situations

Mass shootings aren’t the only threat that a campus can experience. Weather events such as tornadoes, hurricanes, and blizzards require adequate warning and preparation in order to be successfully prepared in the event of an emergency. Dangerous scenarios aren’t just limited to active shooters and weather, there are a plethora of situations for which staff may need to respond in different ways. It’s important to practice for a variety of scenarios to prevent delays in action in the event of a real emergency. Security experts recommend basing decision-making education on the nature of the threat rather than the location of the threat. Teaching staff to base decisions on threat location instead of threat nature prevents them from too quickly deciding the best course of action.

Educate, Educate, Educate

Additional education on handling security events never goes to waste. If even one staff member is unprepared to handle a campus security threat, mass casualties can occur. This means educating staff on protocols in different kinds of emergencies and taking time to complete drills. If staff and teachers are not trained with staff-initiated drills they are less likely to perform in the event of an emergency. This is because under stress people may not always behave rationally and may miss critical components of securing a campus that a rational person would recognize. Something as simple as forgetting to lock a single door can have tragic consequences.

Furthermore, campus members must be able to make the decision to lockdown or initiate a security action plan without consulting anyone. One example of the importance of this kind of decision making is outlined in Amanda Ripley’s book, “The Unthinkable”. There was a fire at the Beverly Hills Supper Club in which some employees looked for a supervisor to report the fire while a busboy took immediate action in evacuating the building, which ended up saving hundreds of lives that would have been lost because of a delayed response.


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This post was written by Elizabeth Kennedy

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