Planning Campus Demands

Taking steps to help students, faculty and staff recover after a disaster

It is no surprise that horrific acts by active shooters on campus generate national headlines. Fortunately, active shooters on campus are relatively rare events. However, virtually every college and university will, at some point, experience a tragedy that they’ll need to recover from. Campus calamities include natural disasters, cyber breaches crimes, and health pandemics, like the one we are in now. What steps should campuses take after a disaster to help students, faculty and staff recover? Just as each college class has required reading, a required document for each and every college should be a comprehensive risk management plan.

Ensure 360 Degree Representation in Planning

The first step in developing a plan is to establish a multi-disciplinary framework that ensures every area of the college is represented from administrators including the facilities, athletics, resident halls, wellness centers, research labs, human resources, academic deans and representatives, security/campus police and legal.

Additionally, it is critically important to include local and state law enforcement and fire departments, as they are likely to respond to a campus crisis as well. If an institution has a significant research and development program, they should consider the potential theft of sensitive research. Further, the college or university may want to consider incorporating federal law enforcement into its crisis planning.

Risk management plans detail every conceivable scenario and are pertinent to regional variances of the individual colleges and universities. For example, a college in Hawaii may need to address very different set of risks versus a college in the mid-west. Making that risk management plan come to life via continual training and regularly scheduled drills are vital to success.

We count many of the country’s finest universities and colleges as our clients. Serving those clients brings us into contact with a wide range of higher education security challenges and brings home the importance of having a comprehensive risk management plan in place.

Developing a Threat Assessment

The first step in developing a risk management plan is to engage in a thorough threat assessment. A threat assessment is a crucial component of a comprehensive school safety program. An effective threat assessment provides school professionals with a framework to prioritize risk allowing schools to apply fiscal and staff resources with a thoughtful approach to mitigation.

Risk management plans provide a framework within which a college or university can more effectively manage a crisis, and create clear and defined objectives for its recovery. These plans include operational and strategic overviews to ensure that a crisis is contained and controlled properly. Management skills in communicating with staff, students, the media and the community, together with the ability of management to determine post-crisis goals and recovery strategies.

The Department of Homeland Security is engaging school administrators, teachers, students, parents, and other stakeholders across the K-12 and college university communities, as well as law enforcement and other first responders who serve those communities, to raise awareness and communicate best practices. They also offer a wealth of resources that are available online.

An overall recovery plan provides a framework within which a college or university can manage the crisis, and create clear and defined objectives for the institution’s recovery. Management skills in communicating with staff, students, the media and the community, together with the ability of management to determine post-crisis goals and recovery strategies, can determine the college’s quickest route to mitigation or recovery.

Recovery Planning: One Size Doesn’t Fit All Campuses

While each recovery plan must be developed to an institution’s unique needs, including student population, geographic locations, and other variables, there are numerous common elements that have been defined in work done jointly by the Department of Homeland Security and the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA). These organizations’ planning templates help an institution think through the varied aspects of a recovery plan.

As discussed, the creation of a truly effective plan requires the partnership and coordination of numerous departments both internally and externally. The on-going communication between all parties on a regular cadence ensures everyone is updated to any and all the changes that inevitably occur on a regular basis on most campuses. Ultimately, effective planning requires collaboration, foresight, diligence and a plan that is actively tested with mock scenarios.

Schools should identify key staff to receive training based on their roles and responsibilities in the overall emergency management program as well as the specific responsibilities related to emergency preparedness, incident management, and response.

IACLEA is an organization that presents resources and information for public safety including best-practices for COVID-19. Their pandemic resources include best practices for communicating via multiple channels to various audiences, resources around best practices on community protection and safeguards, crisis response, employee safety and protection as well as links to Federal and State law enforcement resources.

There is a wide body of experience dealing with the personal exposure and response to a major incident. Post-incident professional counseling for a host of issues requires mobilizing assistance to those who might need support. Individuals will act out differently. Quick and broad response to an incident will help lower the stress that is certain to accompany a major incident. A big challenge for staff is to avoid personalizing the tragedy, as in ‘if only I had been in that room to stop it’ or ‘I wish I had not taken a vacation day on Friday,’ etc. the recovery process really starts at a community level and narrows its way through affected groups and individuals,”

Avoiding the Spread of an Incident’s Impact

Instant, multi-modal communication to students and faculty during an emergency situation keeps the campus community as safe as possible. Timely warnings of significant specific crimes that threaten a campus are mandated through the Clery Act. These warnings need to include credible information that can be used to prompt immediate student and employee action in response to the event.

Promulgating these warnings and informative directions to large populations on a campus remains a challenge and requires many different simultaneous methods including sirens, loudspeakers, email, text messaging, social networking tools and word of mouth.

These multi-modal communication tools aid in minimizing tragedies and were used at the account manager’s school where students and staff were ordered to stay in classes and offices during a two-hour campus lockdown. Emergency notification systems are also proving to be life savers in the case of significant natural and manmade disasters.

Tap into Trusted Networks One of the leading voices for the campus public safety community is IACLEA, International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators. IACLEA provides a clearinghouse for information and issues shared by campus public safety directors across the country. Membership in IACLEA is open to colleges, universities and secondary schools throughout the United States, Canada and other countries, as well as individual campus law enforcement directors and staff, criminal justice faculty members, municipal chiefs of police, companies offering campus law enforcement products and services, and individuals who support professionalism in campus law enforcement administration. The organization’s collaborations with the Departments of Justice, Education and Homeland Security as well as with peer stakeholder organizations within Higher Education, have led to much targeted guidance on dealing with all hazards on a college or university campus.

Campus Safety and Shrinking Budgets

When choosing the mix of security elements needed to protect a campus and to minimize the after effects of campus calamities, the inevitable ultimately rears its ugly head: the budget. Universities need to find a cost-effective total solution for security that ensures that staff, faculty and students are as safe as feasibly possible.

Building a comprehensive crisis plan will identify the requisite resources and effort to successfully reduce risk. When a crisis strikes, there is no greater priority than to mitigate the threat. The cost will vary by the degree of the crisis, and hopefully, many of the costs are ameliorated through prior planning. However, when a major tragedy impacts a campus, the most immediate need is for a visible response that can provide reassurance that things will soon return to normal.

In the aftermath of incidents, many universities have called upon security and facility services forces as the most effective way to bolster the community’s confidence by creating a visible deterrent. We are often used by colleges and universities to add to their internal force and we frequently increase foot coverage and use bikes and motorized vehicles of many kinds to target critical areas of concern.

Regardless of the time of day, security personnel can create another barrier to entry and personally check credentials prior to entrance to the outer perimeter of the campus or residence halls, libraries, academic buildings and research facilities. Security professionals can also staff gatehouses and perform patrols using (and respond to other incidents discovered through) video surveillance. Security services are also often called in to escort students, faculty, staff and visitors around and off campus.

This article originally appeared in the September October 2020 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.

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