Don't Overlook Your Own Experts

Through most of the past 25 years, my job has been to help make faculty, staff, students and visitors safer. Whether serving as a law enforcement officer, government campus safety expert, homeland security official or working for a non-profit safety center, I have taken the same approach to safety — maximizing available resources to enhance the level of safety and emergency preparedness. I have seen many instances where free resources were overlooked and opportunities missed to do the very best to create safer campuses by educational organizations.

In one case, I was contracted to perform a security assessment on a new eight-story school administration building in an urban high-crime area. Once the building was occupied, security concerns, including incidents of several cars being broken into in the parking deck, had occurred. These incidents had taken place in spite of the more than $1,000,000 of security camera and access control technology in place in the building. A police officer detailed to the school system was selected to assist in the survey. He had a detailed knowledge of and access to the entire facility.

It was readily apparent that the veteran officer had a firm grasp on physical security matters. Formally trained in physical security and dignitary protection, he proved to be an observant and astute individual. We identified a number of hazards and came up with viable solutions. While we emphasized cost-effective solutions, some of the risks we found involved flaws in the facility design that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to rectify.

Had he been afforded the opportunity to evaluate the preliminary building plans, this officer could have identified many of the significant design flaws. He had offered to do so, only to be told the architects would take care of everything. He could have offered easy-to-make suggestions at the design stage. The incidents in the parking deck occurred when thieves used a simple design flaw that allowed them to climb a wall to gain access to the deck, bypassing dozens of security cameras and gaining access to the otherwise well-secured area. The client’s valid concern is that criminals who can exploit this gap to break into cars could just as easily enter the area to commit more serious crimes, such as armed robbery or sexual assault.

Another deficiency the officer had previously voiced involved an ineffective weapons screening procedure. To demonstrate, I smuggled a submachine gun, four handguns (all non-functional) and two knives through their checkpoint; bypassed the visitor escort system and carried the weapons into the superintendent’s office, the director of transportation’s office and the office of the school official who had hired me. He then understood that the existing system was merely a façade of security. With concern for weapons entering the building due to the area’s crime rate and previous shooting incidents, this gap was of considerable interest to them.

Among my recommendations were a number of ways the district could utilize local police, fire service, emergency management, public health and school system personnel to enhance the level of safety in the organization. Those in top leadership positions for our institutions of higher learning owe it to themselves and their organizations to draw upon free and often high-quality experts whenever possible, particularly in today’s environment of tight budgets. The expert from“across state lines” is not always the best or only solution, and a true expert will draw on local expertise to better serve a client’s needs when providing services. Also, don’t miss the opportunity to both save money and create an even safer environment during the design phase. While a qualified consultant is well worth the expense when used appropriately, make the best use of your available resources whether or not you use private consultants. There are many highly skilled private consultants who can provide invaluable assistance; just make sure you utilize the nearly endless array of high-quality free resources before expending budget on consulting services.

Michael Dorn serves as the executive director for Safe Havens International Inc., an IRS-approved non-profit safety center. He has authored and co-authored more than 20 books on campus safety and can be reached through the Safe Havens website at .

About the Author

Michael S. Dorn has helped conduct security assessments for more than 6,000 K-12 schools, keynotes conferences internationally and has published 27 books including Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters. He can be reached at