A 21st Century Approach to Campus Safety and Security
Safety and security must be front of mind for university and
college administrators. Protecting the wellbeing of students,
staff, faculty, and guests is not only simply the right
thing to do, but it also reduces risk and exposure for the
institution itself. While this has always been true, colleges
and universities are now dealing with a greater variety of incidents
while also being subjected to a much higher level of public scrutiny. At
the same time, increases in legal fees and the other costs associated
with incidents have driven the costs of responding to issues to extremely
high levels. These costs are now so high that the only sustainable,
viable model for mitigating incidents is preventing them before they
can ever occur—and that requires new efforts and approaches.
MOST EFFECTIVE FORM OF MITIGATION
IS SEAMLESS COMMUNICATION
Put simply, as virtually any safety or security official will attest, prevention
is the most effective form of mitigation. Stopping a crisis before it
can develop is always better, for all parties involved, than responding
after the fact. The most effective way to prevent incidents of all kinds,
from thefts to harassment, assaults and much more, is for safety and
security officials to receive advanced intelligence of a potential problem,
and act before the situation can escalate. Receiving this intelligence
requires open, seamless, and anonymous lines of communication
between security officials and the populations they are protecting.
Higher education institutions have long used a variety of methods
to connect their students, staff, and faculty members with security.
These include anonymous tip lines, email communications, blue lights
call boxes, and more. The problem is that for a variety of reasons
(human behavior, a perceived lack of anonymity, cumbersome communications/
phone calls, etc.), none of these have been terribly effective.
Consequently, vital, actionable intelligence too often does not get
conveyed to the authorities who are in position to act and prevent an
incident before it can develop. Far too often, after the fact, it is discovered
that multiple people were aware of issues surrounding what
became a crisis, but they didn’t speak up at the time.
The most notable example is the 2007 Virginia Tech mass shooting,
which killed 32 and injured dozens more. The final report of the
Virginia Tech Review Panel documented at least 18 pre-attack indicators
spanning several years that should have led to greater scrutiny
of the shooter’s behaviors and mental stability leading up to the
attack. Dozens of students, teachers and staff observed these indicators.
Had there been a way to report and act upon these risk indicators
there is a good chance authorities could have prevented this
tragedy from ever happening.
LEVERAGING MODERN TECHNOLOGY TO
CREATE A MORE CONNECTED CAMPUS
This is where modern technology can truly make a difference. Virtually
every student, staff member, and faculty member carry a smartphone.
Furthermore, people are already comfortable using these
devices to share all manner of information. Leveraging these devices,
their connectivity, and people’s familiarity with them in the interest of
safety and security is an efficient way to overcome many of the issues
that have traditionally impeded the delivery of actionable risk intelligence.
Put another way, modern technology can digitize the “if you see
something, say something” mentality that is so often stressed by security
officials. It makes it much easier to actually “say something.”
By routing the proverbial “tip line” through a smartphone, security
officials are able to receive a much greater volume of critical intelligence
from empowered users. This new approach to prevention creates
a culture of shared responsibility and vigilance. It encourages and
enables students, teachers and staff to report on the full spectrum of
risks, from everyday facility safety issues and theft to more serious
incidents involving sexual assault or suicidal ideation.
There are many advantages to a smartphone-based intelligence
sharing platform. Anonymity is as easy as a swipe of the finger or the
push of a button. This feature eliminates potential blowback and just as
importantly, the perception of blowback, making it much more likely
that students and other users will actually report potential risks to
security. Smartphones can also capture images, audio, and other assets,
aside from written tips. Smartphones are ubiquitous and always present,
meaning that a user is never more than arm’s length away from a
device immediately and easily capable of notifying security.
Smartphone-based risk intelligence platforms are also highly adaptable,
with virtually endless applications. There are many institutions
across the nation that are experimenting with these powerful platforms
right now. Georgetown University was recently one of several
institutions honored by LiveSafe, a company that produces a mobile
safety communications platform and risk mitigation tool, for their outstanding
use of our people-sourced, incident-prevention risk communications
ADVANCED CAPABILITIES INCLUDE
GEO-FENCING, TIP LINES AND SAFE WALKS
The university was experiencing an uptick in laptop thefts in their
library. As opposed to the usual mass, non-targeted message that an
institution might send out (such as an email blast), the Georgetown
University Chief of Public Safety leveraged a newer, more dynamic
part of the LiveSafe platform—time-based geo-fenced messages that
target a specific audience over a period of time in a particular location.
The chief made the geo-fenced message “active” for a few days,
ensuring that students who walked into the library and “tripped” the
geo-fence would be notified of the thefts and encouraged to keep all
of their belongings with them at all times. By notifying people of the
potential threat, additional thefts were avoided. If more thefts had
occurred, a greater deployment of security and investigative resources
would have been required. Preventing the thefts from continuing
was far more effective than investigating and responding to claims of
Georgetown is not the only institution making innovative use of this
sort of technology. In September 2017, Central Connecticut State University
officially deployed LiveSafe. On September 28, 2017 (less than
30 days after launching), Central Connecticut State University Police
Department’s Dispatch Center received a LiveSafe tip through their
dashboard regarding a community member who was actively inflicting
injury to themselves and had suicidal ideations.
As a result of the LiveSafe tip, Dispatch was able to send officers to
the location where they met the student and confirmed the injuries
and the suicidal ideations. University Police were able to render medical
assistance and ensure that long-term care was made available. A
potentially tragic scenario was averted and a community member in
need was helped. Without that early warning, this incident could have
played out much more tragically.
There are countless other applications for this sort of platform. One
popular feature involves smart-notified “safe walks.” Users can map out
their route on Google Maps, complete with estimated travel times, and
select contacts (which can include security officials) to be notified.
Once the trip begins, the app will require the user to push a button at
regular intervals, confirming they are safe. Should that button not be
pressed, the selected contacts will be notified. This is a highly useful
feature for students on college campuses who may be concerned about
walking alone, especially late at night.
COLLABORATIVE EFFORT BRINGS MAXIMIZED
SITUATIONAL AWARENESS TO CAMPUS
These platforms are only as powerful as the people who use them. As
more colleges and universities commit to incident prevention by using
smartphone-based risk intelligence tools, they also must undertake an
effort to engage the entire campus community. Every additional set of
eyes and ears that contributes to reporting helps make prevention a
reality for campus law enforcement and security officials.
Ensuring safety and security on campus must be a collaborative
effort. Leveraging an institution’s most valuable asset—its people—is
not only the most effective way of preventing incidents, but also demonstrates
that the administration is taking safety and security seriously.
People-sourced risk intelligence platforms empower individuals to
take ownership of their own well-being, and contribute to the safety
and security of their campus community by maximizing the situational
awareness of their local police and security departments.
Open lines of communication between security officials and the
general population have the potential to improve the overall relationship
between a university administration and the community it
serves. This sort of incident prevention and communications model
demonstrates a shared interest and commitment in
creating a safer campus and engenders mutual
respect among members of the community. The
result is a healthier, safer and more inclusive campus
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2018 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.
Carolyn Parent is the CEO of LiveSafe.