VT ‘Defining Moment’ But What’s the Meaning?
FOR MANY COLLEGES, universities and schools, the tragedy on the campus of Virginia Tech has led to reviews of security programs and systems.
While today’s chief security officers and campus police chiefs are focused on proactive strategies, massive incidents such as the VT shootings naturally curve around to reactive assessments. And that’s not really bad as campus law enforcement administrators seek to reassure their own communities when it comes to safety and security.
Many organizations are evaluating the ways they communicate during emergencies, their ability to more seamlessly work with local law enforcement, the effectiveness of electronic access control and security video as well as the need to build into institutions more efficient means of taking appropriate action on someone’s concerns before something bad happens.
Evaluation In Order“I think [the Virginia Tech incident] will cause colleges and universities to take a step back and thoroughly evaluate their safety and security environment,” said Steven Healy, director of public safety at Princeton University, Princeton, N.J. and president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA). “As part of that evaluation, institutions will likely invest additional monies into the physical security infrastructure.”
Healy and other security experts recommend the use of threat and risk assessment tools as a starting point for a college or university in evaluating its current plans and systems. IACLEA developed such a tool from the Department of Homeland Security and with the help of other organizations. Information about this tool, as well as a wealth of other tips and information can be accessed through IACLEA’s Web site (www.iaclea.org).
Communications should be among the top security best practices, according to Patrick Fiel, public safety advisor for education at ADT Security Services.
Set Common StandardsI am a resource for colleges or universities needing advice,” Fiel said. On the K-12 level, Fiel urges school boards to get the local police involved in campus security needs. At the college and university level, he believes the best plan is the setting of common standards across all institutions and campuses.
The ADT executive offered three key tech areas:
- Communications – alert systems, mass notification systems. “You have to get the word out to everyone, quickly and through a diversity of means.”
- Door controls – “All doors should be lockable electronically, if possible. The ability from a central source to instantly lock down facilities is important.
- Security video – Fiel installed 3,000 cameras in Washington, D.C., schools. “Cameras provide prevention, monitoring for incidents and identification and allow emergency personnel responding to an event to see what they are going into.”
“Back up. Calm down. And do things smart” is the advice from Rob Schorr, systems engineer at MDI Security Systems, when asked how schools and colleges should react to the Virginia Tech news. “But err on the side of caution.”
His firm is a principal in the Learn Safe Initiative, which is a turnkey security solution. The Learn Safe Initiative was created in early 2006 in response to an alarming increase in violence and employee misconduct in our nation’s schools. The imperative was simple: Provide children and teachers with the ability to learn and teach in a safe environment.
Emergency AlertingAlso emerging from the Virginia Tech aftermath is the need for mass notification and emergency alert systems. They can reduce large-scale violence in high-density public areas by preventing unsuspecting bystanders from entering a crisis situation and decreasing the number of potential victims that come into harm’s way, according to Jim Crumbley, who heads a security and risk mitigation consulting firm specializing in security and threat assessment.
Mass notification and duress systems enable administrators and security departments to issue mass alerts to students, employees and local law enforcement via text messages, pop-up messages on computer screens, e-mail alerts and phone calls as soon as a dangerous situation is detected.
“Large campuses, such as hospitals and universities, need a mass alert system in place to immediately inform employees and students of potential danger,” Crumbley said. “Despite the communication challenges cited by universities after the Virginia attack, systems are available that enable campus administrators to keep the campus clear of potential victims to reduce the level of harm done. Additionally, they assist law enforcement officers in controlling dangerous situations by reducing the variables involved in locating and arresting the source of danger.
“In a crisis, especially one that potentially could affect thousands of students or employees, one should prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” Crumbley said.
Government Meetings, Task Forces
Tighten Response Procedures“Security and emergency response procedures are foremost on the mind of college and university communities locally and nationally,” said Marist College President Dennis Murray.
But no matter the campus or the state, there still is the budget challenge.
“It depends on whether the school has the financial resources to put expensive equipment in. Some are operating on much tighter budgets than others,” said Chuck Burdick, director of campus safety and security at iXP, Lawrenceville, N.J. Burdick, who has 25 years of fire service for the Littleton, Colo., Fire Department was one of the first responders to the scene of the Columbine High School shooting in 1999.
He contended that it is too early to tell what we will learn from the Virginia Tech incident, but eventually changes will happen. Some of the lessons learned from the Columbine school shooting, said Burdick, were what worked and what didn’t work when responding to an active shooter incident. “One of the simple security things we learned that saved a whole lot of lives at Columbine was that all of the doors at the school were always in a locked position,” Burdick recalled. This simple security measure kept the shooters from entering many classrooms and areas of the school because the doors were locked from the inside automatically.
Security Magazine Editorial Advisory Board member Barry Nixon, executive director of the National Institute for Prevention of Workplace Violence, agreed. “These days, there are a number of electronic applications that can help with the process of immediate communication automatically – but you need a plan in advance.”
The impact of an incident such as the shooting at Virginia Tech encompasses a large list of losses, Nixon explained, including clean up and public relations costs, lost wages, insurance rates, lawsuits and most importantly lives. “The financial impact after an incident such as this is 100 times more costly than the costs of prevention,” he added.
Nixon also said that forming alliances and relationships with associations and industry organizations, such as the National Institute for Prevention of Workplace Violence or IACLEA, could be helpful for chief security officers and campus chiefs of police.