Why Your Risk Management Plan Can’t Work in Silos

Siloed systems inhibit security solutions from performing effectively

Imagine trying to watch TV with one remote designated to powering it on, another solely for adjusting volume, another for changing the channel, and so on. Individually, they’re all technically useful and are necessary for watching television, but their lack of unity and ease of use would greatly decrease anyone’s experience watching television—and maybe stop them from watching television altogether.

This concept also applies to a schools’ risk management plan. Many schools have implemented security cameras, alarm systems, door locks, and other safety and security technology, but because they are siloed systems, they don’t work efficiently or effectively towards the main goal of keeping the school safe.

Be Proactive, Not Reactive

When it comes to risk management, there is one major issue that is consistently seen across the board in schools: reactivity. When it comes to schools' risk management, many implement safety technologies reactively, rather than proactively. For example, if there is an incident in which someone enters a school unauthorized, after the incident, the school’s reactionary response may be to install security cameras. While it is an understandable solution from the standpoint of wanting more of a visual sense of what is happening inside the building, it leaves little to no action people can take to control the situation—they can simply watch it unfold.

In reality, once the cameras are installed, more often than not, nothing further happens. Although they took a great first step in implementing a new technology system to provide them with valuable information, that information by itself isn’t helpful because it typically doesn’t end up going anywhere.

The security cameras are only a superficial fix to the original problem, rather than being a functioning part of an entire risk management plan. For instance, let’s look at the situation one step further. After the cameras are installed, what is the plan when someone else attempts to enter the school? This creates another level of accountability, as someone must always be watching the live video feed to wait for an incident to occur (the only other option is to review the recording after an incident has already taken place, which by then is too late). Adding the cameras only created another role for someone to fill, and even if that role is filled, that doesn’t mean they are actually prepared to deal with another incident. These reactionary responses may seem like a solution, but they don’t actually contribute to the overall risk management plan, and rather lead to a dead end.

Let’s take a look at another potential scenario: Say a security guard is hired or is given the responsibility for watching the video feed as outlined above, and he/she sees an unauthorized user attempting to enter the building. What is their next step? They can either decide what to do on their own or leave the camera feed to go tell someone what they’ve seen. Neither option is sufficient. The security guard will either have to leave the situation unattended, or instead be forced to make an uninformed and potentially panicked decision, without reference to any type of plan. In reality, installing video cameras was ineffective at preventing the incident from happening again and inefficient at managing it in real-time.

As part of the solution, it’s important that schools and administrators take a look at the big picture and focus on solutions that provide the right people with the information they need so they can make an informed decision on the next best step without adding additional steps or procedures. While the scenario above paints a picture of a common situation facing schools, it is one of many to consider when thinking about risk management. This scenario alone cannot inform your decision, but rather serve as a starting point for where to begin. When thinking about what is right for each particular facility, asking the right questions is essential. The below are designed to help guide the conversation and ensure your risk management solution fits individualized needs.

  • Once a new safety system is installed, how are we prepared to utilize it and how will we push that information out?
  • What information do we want to be pushed out?
  • Who do we want to send it to and how do we want them to receive it?

By answering questions like these, schools and administrators can begin to form an outline of an effective risk management plan which pulls siloed safety measures together and empowers the appropriate parties to take well-informed action to either stop or prevent these unwanted incidents from happening.

A New Type of Hall Monitor

Creating awareness about what’s happening, where it’s happening, and what to do about it saves lives and property. Such knowledge can be difficult to attain when multiple alarm systems are at play—each with its own notification and reporting protocols. Unmonitored systems generally only provide local alerting in the form of buzzers, lights, or annunciation panels. For example, a fire alarm goes off when smoke is detected, but it doesn’t tell you where the fire is or where to find the nearest exits so the campus can be safely evacuated.

There are many types of emergencies: an overflowing toilet, a power outage, a tornado, an armed intruder, etc. Regardless of the emergency, the first few minutes are critical to determining the outcomes. The role of technology is to improve outcomes for people and property, and that includes preventing bad things from happening and facilitating the appropriate response if an emergency does occur. Reducing confusion, panic, and communication breakdowns prevents delayed responses that can equate to costly mistakes.

The advantage is that today’s smarter networks and devices, plus the right software to tie all of them together, make it easier and more cost-effective than ever to create a safety bubble over a single building, wide-area campus, or entire district. In addition to developing emergency preparedness and response plans, campuses can use software to integrate all of their alarm systems and then automate emergency notifications to send real-time information to the appropriate first-responders. That way, when a smoke alarm does go off, people can be alerted to where, why, and what to do about it, rather than just know an alarm has been triggered and that they need to leave the building.

Identify Your Existing Technologies

Another challenge to creating a cohesive technology plan is the unification of realtime monitoring. Make a list. What are the real time alerts you have at your disposal? While this list may not appear to all work together, by simply being alerts they are creating a commonality and an opportunity for monitoring. Any number of life safety, security, and environmental alarm systems are at work on any given campus at any given time. Then, factor in a combination of voice and data networks, not to mention various communication devices. Once these alerts are identified, look at solutions to unify them.

While the evolution of technology has increased the amount of these alerts, it also means an increase in infrastructure and opportunity. Moving from rudimentary to advanced—from radios, handsets and pagers to smartphones, smart TVs, and tablets— there are ample opportunities for communicating. For example, a school’s campus is already full of various screens that can be used to improve communication and information flow, especially in an emergency. Why not leverage that screen real estate to push out critical information to students, teachers and staff?

Interoperability

Now that a list has been created and a technology inventory established, the next step is interoperability. As mentioned above, on almost every campus and school facility you will find different life safety, security and communication systems that have been installed over the years, but managing all of these systems separately can result in communication breakdowns and costly mistakes. While each of these may have been implemented with the intention of improving connectivity and communication, over time, operating on their own individual platform can cause more of a problem in itself.

Today’s technology however, can take advantage of existing networks, devices, and other software systems and allow them to work together to enhance emergency alerting and response management overall. Every sensor, alarm, and communication end-point can be unified to ensure that key individuals, select groups, or entire populations are able to receive real-time information about what’s happening on their campus. This interoperability means that a school’s existing technology investments don’t have to go to waste. In fact, their utility can be expanded.

Such interoperability takes a campus or school facility from reactionary and siloed to proactive and holistic in terms of emergency alerting and response management. By unifying all of these disparate systems, schools are able to give their campus eyes, ears and a voice, plus the knowledge to take appropriate action. Schools have the technology, they just need to maximize its power. To do this, it’s important that we take a look back at what that process looks like. It begins with schools and their administrators replacing reactionary responses with proactive decisions, allowing for safety preparedness, rather than a quick fix. The next step is to identify the existing safety technologies that are already implemented in the facility, then to ask the major questions on how they can be utilized efficiently to provide people with the necessary information to make informed and timely decisions. After these technologies and their abilities are identified, the next step is to bring all of them together into one platform, thereby cutting out the confusion of managing unmonitored and siloed safety solutions. Once this is done, an effective risk management plan is nearly complete, the final step is to simply work out the finishing touches.

Think back to watching TV with a handful of remotes, rather than just one. Not only is it inconvenient, but ineffective. Using a universal remote to combine all of the separate remotes’ functions together simplifies the process and creates a cohesive unifier. This same principle applies to school safety. When it comes to campus safety, school systems need to utilize security cameras, fire alarms, door alarms, and other safety measures on one platform to maximize efficiency and improve safety. If using a universal remote is common sense, why isn’t it common sense to use software to tie the various safety measures administered on a campus together?

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2019 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.

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