Enhancing Campus Safety and Preparedness: 12 Recommendations for Developing Effective Short- and Long-term Solutions

The issue of safety on campus has come to the forefront as never before. Senior-level administrators at colleges and universities throughout the United States are responding to the situation with immediacy, care, and vision. Many institutions are taking stock of existing life-safety systems, planning, and processes as they evaluate what might need to be done to enhance campus protection and overall emergency preparedness.

Following is a set of recommendations to help guide the strategies and action planning of colleges and universities as they move forward at this critical juncture.

1. Avoid short-term thinking and the impulse to find a single-technological solution. With the heightened focus on campus safety, institutions can expect to be approached by numerous suppliers of products and technologies. While it may be important to implement certain safety enhancements promptly, your decisions should be rooted in the larger overall life-safety picture and its long-term implications. This can involve three steps:

  • •Needs analysis based on your existing life-safety systems infrastructure, applicable codes and standards, and overall protection goals. What are your risks? How will you manage and mitigate them?
  • •Development of short-term strategies that can be implemented quickly and communicated to students, families, and staff.
  • <.li>•Formulation of plans and a timeline for migrating to a long-term, overarching life-safety solution. To help strengthen the campus safety benefits and maximize operational efficiencies, such a solution can encompass an array of life-safety systems and technologies, including fire alarm, sprinkler, security, mass notification, emergency communications, and emergency lighting.

2. Think about your campus in its entirety. Unfortunately, no part of a campus is invulnerable to a threat. In addition to classrooms, residence halls, laboratories, and administrative buildings, a robust life-safety protection solution should address outdoor areas such as parking lots, as well as sports and entertainment venues. Today’s technologies enable your institution’s buildings and properties, including off-site satellite operations, to be networked. With networked systems, a centralized command center can be a valuable asset as an organization directs its response to emergencies and coordinates the efforts of outside responders.

3. Emergency response may need to extend beyond the campus. A comprehensive emergency response capability may include notifying commuting staff and students via radio, Amber Alert messages, and/or perimeter checkpoints. Emergency response may also involve notification of administration personnel during off-hours and automated e-mail and cell-phone alerts as an event unfolds. Keeping people out of harm’s way can be as important as responding to the threat itself.

4. Be sure to involve all stakeholders. Many different groups within your institution have a role to play in formulating a plan to enhance campus safety and preparedness. Security, facilities management, information technology, in-house engineering, and student housing departments can all contribute valuable input and direction. Faculty, staff, and student constituencies should also be involved. It’s important to obtain input and buy-in from all these groups, not only in the planning stage but as decisions are reached and implemented. Their cooperation will be vital to the long-term success of your initiative.

Influences outside the organization should also be brought into the process. These groups may include state and local law enforcement, first responders, and local Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJs) such as fire chiefs and fire marshals. The campus safety and preparedness discussions will also benefit from the participation of industry experts — security consultants, architects, consulting engineers, and the companies who supply and service your systems. Be sure your internal and external stakeholders are aware of each other’s concerns and responsibilities.

Finally, don’t forget students and parents. Keeping them informed of progress will allow you to demonstrate your institution’s commitment to safety.

5. Actively promote internal cooperation. It will be important to involve senior administrators to help overcome potential interdepartmental barriers that could hinder planning and implementation of your campus safety planning and preparedness effort. From the start, be sure to inform and educate your senior leadership on this initiative. They should be involved in establishing the tone for the program, directing their teams to pull together, and maintaining oversight going forward. Clearly, cooperation between all groups during a real threat can be critical to the outcome.

6. Consider a phased approach that leverages your existing fire alarm infrastructure. For many institutions, funding a comprehensive life-safety solution all at once is unrealistic in the short term. It may be possible, however, to start by implementing key enhancements within a larger, phased program. In particular, adding campuswide voice notification capabilities to the existing fire alarm infrastructure is considerably less costly than the upfront expense of installing a stand-alone emergency address system. Moreover, it can be accomplished rather quickly. Voice-enabled fire alarm systems have been used for decades to provide mass notification for fire conditions, severe weather alerts, chemical spills, and other emergencies. The code-driven reliability and survivability of a fire alarm system make it a highly effective platform for mass notification. Leveraging your investment in fire alarms to handle indoor/outdoor voice messaging is a practical, cost-effective way to produce a measurable improvement in campus safety.
Additional elements of a longer-term comprehensive solution can follow, including:

  • •Threat Reporting: Video monitored duress buttons, emergency call stations
  • •Threat Verification: Access control, monitored video, incident management systems
  • •Notification: Alert sirens and strobes, text displays

As technologies are added, it may make sense to link them together to form an interoperable network of fire alarm, fire sprinkler, security, and emergency communications systems.

7. Explore alternative funding mechanisms. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security makes grant money available for campus safety improvements — funding that is disseminated through individual states. The costs for enhancing campus safety and preparedness can also be proposed to your alumni for targeted fundraising.

Leasing is another potential option that can be considered for financing a campus life-safety initiative. Leasing can enable you to proceed with a campus safety upgrade through the annual budgeting process — without straining the institution’s capital budget. Costs can be spread throughout several years in the operating budget and the financing can cover the entire project, including equipment, installation, labor training, and software. With a leasing solution you can phase your payments, not the project. By matching cash flow to funding, you can strengthen campus safety more quickly than might be the case through more traditional life-safety funding mechanisms. A leasing option can be even more attractive when working with a company that provides financing to facilitate a long-term business relationship rather than obtain short-term gains.

8. Consider code compliance in your planning. While fire and building codes have been in place for decades, mass notification systems are subject to emerging standards being developed by industry standards organizations such as the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and Underwriters Laboratories (UL). Furthermore, some states are requiring fire sprinkler retrofits for residence halls, and still others are taking steps to pass laws specific to campus safety. As you plan and implement a life-safety systems upgrade, be sure the suppliers involved in the project are up-to-date on emerging codes and regulations. Failure to factor code compliance into your solution could end up being costly and problematic.

9. “Future-proof” your investment for expandability. Colleges and universities tend to be dynamic, ever-changing institutions. So ideally, the life-safety systems solution you put in place today should be flexible enough to grow and expand as the campus changes and needs evolve. This flexibility requirement can be addressed in part by standardizing on a scaleable platform that is designed to accommodate expansion. It’s also important to implement technology that is forward- and backward-compatible, thereby providing long-term protection for the investments you’re making in life-safety systems.

10. Don’t overlook training. It will be important to acquaint students, faculty, and personnel with campus safety systems and procedures. Toward that end, it may be useful to add periodic security evacuation drills to your school’s schedule and include explanatory information in campus orientation materials. During regular orientation sessions, residence hall advisors can show students the location of emergency call stations and/or duress buttons in each residence hall and review the appropriate response to emergency sirens, strobe signaling, and emergency text message displays. While campuswide voice notification can reduce the training burden, students and campus personnel should be made aware of its existence and the importance of following voice instruction in an emergency.

11. Make sure you factor in system maintenance. Routine inspection, maintenance, and repair are fundamental to keeping life-safety systems in top working order for an emergency situation. Such testing is generally mandated by codes and regulations. Choosing a suitable service provider and scheduling regular service activity should be viewed as vital components of your campus safety initiative. It may also be advisable to choose an organization that is able to service multiple fire, communications, and security systems, which can streamline the process and provide operational benefits. Top-flight, national organizations with proven life-safety experience can reliably service your systems and help you keep pace with technology enhancements.

12. Market your campus safety improvement. Higher education institutions, as well as groups and organizations such as the U.S. Department of Education, are committed to providing a safe environment in which to learn and keeping students, parents, and employees well informed about campus security. In 1990, the U.S. Congress passed the Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act (also known as the Jeanne Clery Act). The law, amended several times since its initial passage, requires institutions of higher education that participate in federal student aid programs to make public disclosure of campus crime statistics (for the most recent three years) as well as campus security policies. Institutions that have a campus police or security department are required to maintain a daily crime log that is available to the public. As you strengthen campus safety and preparedness, it may deter the incidence of crime. Information relating to improvements in campus safety can be incorporated into your communications to potential students, parents, faculty, and employees. With today’s elevated security awareness, your campus safety initiative can definitely be a factor in enhancing the reputation of your institution and attracting students, faculty, and staff.

Tom Giannini, CPP, is director of Security & Emergency Communications Marketing at SimplexGrinnell (www.simplexgrinnell.com).