The security landscape at colleges and universities constantly changes in response to events in the outside world. Campuses cannot simply be considered leafy sanctuaries, immune from danger. Security is no longer a nice-to-have; the horrors of the Boston Marathon bombing, or just recently at the Stade de France in Paris, make it an essential consideration.

In the face of these threats many colleges and universities are beginning to consider what enhancements could and should be made to improve their security measures. Beyond the halls of academia universities host a variety of large scale events including sports, concerts and graduation ceremonies and must have a plan in place for keeping attendees safe.  

Major sporting events such as the Olympics, the Super Bowl, and the U.S. Open tennis tournament have implemented screening operations to keep athletes and spectators safe, while the NFL and Major League Baseball teams use security screening at all games.

Some institutions of higher education have mimicked the approaches of their commercial brethren. After Idaho law was changed to allow holders of enhanced concealed weapons permits to carry-concealed on some parts of Idaho campuses (though not at football stadiums or other large venues), in 2014 Boise State University installed metal detectors that football fans must pass through and added bag searches. Other universities, such as the University of Michigan, Rutgers, and the University of Pittsburgh, have stepped up security measures at their stadiums as well.

While changes to security on college campuses are taking place, approaches vary based on needs, venues, and more. Indeed, there are many factors university security personnel must consider, including mobility, reconfigurability, size and weight, not to forget the spectator experience.

First, think about the venue. If it is a single location then fixed metal detectors may be the best choice. If instead there are multiple locations, used at different times, then weight and portability of the metal detectors should be considered, to provide flexibility in configuration for different flows of foot traffic. Also an important consideration is whether the security screening is to be conducted outdoors or indoors. Security equipment specifically for outdoor applications are available.

Crowd size will also affect security considerations. At a sports event, for instance, there is a maximum number of people who can attend, based on the number of seats in the arena or stadium. Historical attendance records provide useful information on particular games (a nationally-ranked opponent is likely to bring bigger crowds, for instance). This will affect the number of screening stations required, to balance increased security against the length of time visitors will have to wait. Security equipment manufacturers can assist in throughput calculations estimating the needed amount of equipment and screening staff to efficiently screen the spectators.

Another consideration is the screening of bags and personal belongings. Walk-through metal detectors don’t take up much space; roller tables and screening devices for belongings take up more space, but allow for greater flexibility regarding changing (or creating) concepts of operations dictating what kinds of bags visitors can bring, or whether or not hand searches are necessary.

The spectator experience may be the least considered issue but is probably the most important one in the long run. You want everyone to enter the venue trusting that they are secure while enjoying the ball game or event. The other factor is the convenience the spectator experiences while being screened. This should be done effectively, equally and without any unnecessary hassles.

Cost, of course, is always important, but that should be the final factor to be weighed, not the first. Cost considerations should include whether training services for security personnel on the specific technologies are offered; power, repair and maintenance requirements, including availability of repair services on event days; durability of the screening equipment; and incidence of false positives, to name a few. It is imperative to weigh in the cost of security versus the cost of a breach of security and the damage that could accumulate. Also noteworthy to mention that in most cases the cost the equipment is minimal compared to the cost of the staff in the long run. The better the equipment and the smoother the concept of operations, the lesser the burden on human interference and thus, the lesser the cost.

Laying out all these considerations may seem daunting, nor is this an exhaustive list. Vendors offering solutions that fit specific needs can help guide security managers to answers that ensure that campus visitors have enjoyable – and safe – experiences.