All-Hazards Campus Safety: From Tornadoes to Terrorism

The recent hurricanes, as well as those causing devastation in Florida last year; the shooting deaths of several university police officers; accidental deaths and heart stoppages of students and employees, as well as fires on campus this past school year, show the need for the all-hazards approach to safety. My work with Jane’s, the prominent defense, intelligence and security publisher in England, as well as the work in our non-profit center, has been heavily influenced by requests to keynote conferences and to perform consulting work relating to antiterrorism for the campus environment since 9/11. I had been working in this area long before that tragic day, but like most people, few American campus officials were interested in antiterrorism measures prior to 9/11.

Today, there is a heightened interest in the very real dangers of terrorism. Unfortunately, this interest sometimes comes at the cost of a balance between the remote possibility, yet devastating impact, of an act of terrorism at any particular institution of higher learning, and other forms of lower impact yet more likely safety incidents. Added to this is the problem of the many media“talking heads” who proffer advice that is nothing short of dangerous disinformation on terrorism. The number of terrorism experts in this country exploded on September 12, 2001. Scads of“terrorism experts” expounding misinformation in media snippets where alarmist information is more desirable than factual information and in presentations at professional conferences have become common. These individuals are most often some form of “security consultants” who are trolling for work by adding to the feeding frenzy of media driven by market forces to provide shocking information designed to get us to buy a newspaper or turn on the television.

The problem has been more than blown out of proportion as many organizations, including institutions of higher learning, have made serious mistakes by responding to media-driven fear rather than a frank analysis of risk. Well-meaning campus officials have squandered millions on useless antiterrorism measures for what are remote, if not virtually impossible, scenarios. This is due to the proliferation of disinformation on the topic of terrorism in our society.

Meanwhile, a university in Tennessee has already paid more than $3 million in the case of an employee who was injured by an improperly secured television that fell on her foot. Students have died from accidents, suicides and acts of violence in cases that probably could have been averted with an appropriate focus on the “what is” of safety instead of grasping for solutions to countless “what ifs” or, just as tragically, situations where the actual level of risk is not recognized. No one at an institution of higher learning wants to see a staff member, student or visitor injured or killed on campus. Likewise, budgets today are too tight to allow the tremendous waste of funds that occurs when a multimillion-dollar settlement or jury award follows a safety incident. How can officials concerned with safety on campus address the multitude of concerns relating to safety in today’s world?

Base Safety Measures on a Formal Risk Assessment Process

In many instances, serious crimes have occurred after millions have been spent on security cameras, access control systems, metal detectors, security guard services and other measures for a single building. While all of these measures have proven to be invaluable when properly utilized, we have seen cases where they have been implemented without a formal risk and vulnerability assessment and without a proper connection to other safety measures. Major purchases of safety equipment; implementation of new safety procedures; and the addition of additional security, safety and campus law enforcement personnel all prove to be dramatically more effective when the measures are guided by formal assessment.

The risk and vulnerability assessment process should include these four specific types of assessment tools.

1. Evaluate the latest community hazard assessment. Contact your local emergency management agency and schedule a meeting to review the findings of their latest assessment. Any hazards that concern your community should be of concern to your organization.

2. Review and analyze your own incident data. Make sure that any trends in incident types, location and severity are identified.

3. Conduct anonymous safety surveys of students and staff. While a numerical rating scale is needed to accurately plot statistical data, be sure to allow space for general, open-ended comments. Often, some of the most valuable feedback comes from these types of comments.

4. Coordinate tactical site surveys on every campus facility and area (such as athletic fields and stadiums) at least once every year. There are two basic approaches to tactical site surveys: internal and external expertise. While each has its benefits, developing an internal team costs a fraction of what consultants charge and typically is more effective in improving the culture of safety in the institution. In one case, our non-profit center trained hundreds of school safety specialists for the Indiana Department of Education for about what one security consultant charged to conduct site surveys for only three buildings. Training an internal team allows your institution to internalize the expertise needed to coordinate your own site surveys and to train other staff to spot and correct hazardous situations on a daily basis rather than once a year. While hiring consultants is less expensive and sometimes less effective in reducing risk, it is the easier route and offers the advantage of getting an external evaluation of campus buildings, grounds and other areas.

Evaluate Sources of Safety Information

When hiring private consultants or safety trainers, or purchasing safety-related information products, be sure to look carefully at the credentials of the individuals and firms involved. I have been astonished at the number of individuals operating as campus safety consultants and trainers who lack proper credentials in their field. I have seen campus safety consultants who charge as much as $20,000 per day who are incompetent beyond question. Always ask if the consultants’ prior work experience, education and training are relevant to the work being conducted.

Develop a Written, Four-Phase, All-Hazards Safety Plan

The best way to ensure that a prudent and defensible approach to safety has been used is to develop a proper four-phase campus safety plan. If your institution does not have specific, written plan sections addressing the four phases of emergency management, it is not doing the best job possible to maintain a safe environment. A proper four-phase plan will address any relevant concerns, from terrorism to underage drinking on campus. The four phases are:

    • prevention and mitigation,

    • preparedness,

    • response and

    • recovery.

Avoid the Maginot Line Syndrome

History provides numerous examples to illustrate key points relevant to safety. I often use the example of the Maginot Line in my keynotes to make the point of how easy it is to become dangerously overconfident in safety measures. When French minister of defense André Maginot designed the massive fortifications to help protect France from the possibility of invasion by Germany, he cautioned French leaders that the line could still allow German forces to use a flanking attack to circumvent the wall. Unfortunately, Maginot died before the enormous project was completed, and French leaders failed to heed his warnings. A German officer wrote a book outlining how the new concept of mechanized warfare could, in simple terms, allow German forces to use a massive and rapid flanking attack to forgo the Maginot Line and conquer France. The French apparently did not read his book, but a guy named Adolf Hitler did, and history records the results.

A current example is the failure of the over-reliance on cameras to reduce crime in England. Contrary to popular illusion, London is not the safe urban city it used to be. British police we interviewed while working there last spring cautioned us to be careful in downtown London, where they advised we were more likely to be mugged than in New York City. Upon further discussion, they insisted the massive installation of security cameras in England has been at the expense of other measures, and street crime has skyrocketed. The July 7th terrorist bombings on the London Underground show that while cameras proved to be useful in catching terrorists after they caused chaos, the presence of thousands of cameras failed to deter the attacks.

I have seen countless instances of smaller-scale failures due to emphasis on one or two safety methodologies to the exclusion of others. While security technology solutions including cameras, crime prevention through environmental design and other measures can be incredibly effective in reducing risk when used as part of a comprehensive approach to safety, they are sometimes used individually as a “magic bullet,” with limited results.

Address All Hazards

A variety of safety hazards must be addressed to meet the moral and legal obligations inherent in operating an institution of higher learning. By using this simple but comprehensive approach to safety, the chances that students, staff or visitors will be killed or seriously injured on campus can be dramatically reduced.

An internationally recognized authority on campus safety and antiterrorism measures for places of learning, Michael Dorn has published more than 20 books on campus safety. His recent book, Innocent Targets — When Terrorism Comes to School, has been used by the Israeli Police, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, emergency management and homeland security agencies in all 50 states and at the Naval War College. A graduate of the FBI National Academy, he has also received extensive antiterrorism training in the U.S. and in Israel. He serves as an analyst for Jane’s through their offices in nine countries. He also serves as the executive director for Safe Havens International Inc., a non-profit safety center. He can be reached through his Website at .