Despite their oft-publicized failures, public-private partnerships, or P3s, have the potential to significantly boost security and emergency management programs. Running the gamut from combatting terrorism to addressing cyber risks to maintaining public safety, “knowing who to collaborate with and what resources they have available under blue skies helps immensely under the gray and black skies of a disaster,” says Herbert Ubbens, CPP, PSP, president at Paratus Consultants Group.
Here’s how nurturing relationships, careful training and focusing on the common good has contributed to several successful P3s.
Proactivity Improves P3 Relationships on a Private Campus
Concordia University Texas, located in Austin, utilizes partnerships with both city and county law enforcement, as well as the local fire department. “I run a security department operation for the campus, but it’s within the campus police,” says Anthony Brown, security manager, emergency program manager and environmental health and safety coordinator.
With an entry control gate that’s staffed 24/7 by security personnel who are by law unable to make arrests or even detain someone for their own safety, “most often it’s us calling on them,” Brown says. “We’re such a small school, we don’t always have a law enforcement officer on duty, so then we have to call the Austin Police Department. And very often, especially early on, we heard, ‘Well, don’t you guys have a police department? What are you calling us for?’”
Cultivating relationships has been instrumental in developing these partnerships. The most effective means has been for the university to offer training and conference space to these public agencies and sit down and have conversations with their staff. “We’ll make those connection points and familiarize them with our campus and our personnel and how we operate,” says Brown. “Just having them on campus has been a huge boon to the relationship between us and our local authorities. As they become more familiar with us and realize our limitations, they’re a lot more likely and quick to respond.”
Beyond-the-basics education and training for security officers at the university has also helped not just their relationships with outside agencies, but the perception of their security staff as well. “We’ve put a lot of effort in our staff of training them on threat assessment and risk analysis so that they can not only talk through their protocols and procedures, but they can really understand why we do the things we do,” Brown says. “That’s netted huge benefits in the way that our local law enforcement sees our security operation. ‘Hey, these guys know what they’re doing, and they do take it seriously. And if they’re calling us, then it’s no small thing and they need us there.’”
A campus consisting of 39 populated acres and around 350 wild acres makes the university one of the highest fire risks in the state. “We work with our local fire department as the owners and professionals of the emergency management world, but also because that’s a specific risk for us,” says Brown. “Understanding risk is one of those key factors in involving other people. If you can articulate the risk, then (public agencies) understand that you’re not wasting their time. They understand what they’re walking into and they’re a lot more likely to give you useful information because they know you’re serious.”
Brown recently attended a FEMA training with a variety of levels of government and found he was the only person in the room from a university and the only person anyone had ever talked to from a private university. “They didn’t understand that we’re not governed by what they expected from big public universities and we aren’t involved in any of the local planning committees,” says Brown. “The security manager needs to understand exactly what their environment is and who they need to reach out to in order to get more information.”
Being proactive makes an impact. “As necessary as these partnerships are, they wouldn’t be happening without the effort on both sides of the equation,” Brown says. “It takes an active role on my part to go to conferences and trainings and meet officers and say, ‘We’d love to have you out. We have some space.’”
Digital Identity System Reduces Operational Costs
Like many state governments, Utah’s various agencies and departments have different ways of interacting with citizens in their own silos of digital identity, which is expensive, insecure and can lead to multiple user names and passwords, not to mention bad user experiences, says Ben Goodman, SVP of global corporate and business development at ForgeRock. Realizing that they needed better identity and access management for their employees, citizens and businesses, Utah turned to ForgeRock’s Identity Platform to build a secure, singular digital identity system for the entire state.
Though the streamlining process will be ongoing until 2025, some of these digital silos have already been collapsed, allowing more citizens to engage in digital interaction rather than opting for more-costly physical interactions. Because the platform also allows for easy integration and expansion to add services, the state has been constantly rolling out new capabilities.
And not only has the new system greatly improved efficiency in a variety of departments, Goodman says the state is expected to save up to $15 million thanks to a drastic reduction in overall operational expenses.
Emergency Management P3s Vital for Recovery
“In North Carolina, we have a Business Emergency Operations Center (BEOC), which brings together private sector partners as part of the emergency management team,” says Ubbens. These partners include the 16 critical infrastructure sectors that fall under the DHS Cyber + Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) directive, such as utilities, banking, telecom, retail, pharmaceutical, health care, fuel and lodging, all of which work together to coordinate resources and speed up recovery during hurricanes and other disasters.
“Recovery of an event is difficult if companies cannot restore utilities, phone, fuel and medicines and food cannot be brought into affected areas,” Ubbens says. “Without the BEOC’s statewide coordination, trucks may be stopped at a roadblock and not permitted to enter evacuated areas to deliver much-needed supplies and crews from in- and out-of-state may not have a place to stay and rest so that the power can be restored.”
The Power of P3s in Stadium and Event Security
Having worked in both the public and private sectors of P3s, previously as a law enforcement officer and then in event and entertainment security, James DeMeo knows how vital P3s are to keeping patrons safe. “The preparations that go into safeguarding any venue … start with the establishment of public-private partnerships,” says DeMeo, founder, president and CEO of Unified Sports & Entertainment Security Consulting. “The significance of establishing effective communications networks between in-house security and guest services, third-party contract security and first responders cannot be underscored,” he says. “Everyone on the same page, speaking the same language in the interest of public safety, is paramount for safeguarding fans, as well as brand and organization assets.”
The greatest benefit of these partnerships is “the sharing of resources, resources and more resources,” says DeMeo. These include aspects such as real time intelligence gathering and analysis, responsible social media monitoring, threat and behavioral analysis, situational awareness, active shooter/assailant training, workplace violence prevention and awareness, IED explosives training, lessons learned and best practices.
Training is especially crucial in the confined spaces seen in arenas and stadiums, particularly with newer part-time employees who may not be familiar with the layout of the venue and where resources are located. “The presence of various law enforcement agencies assigned to work the venue, especially if these agencies haven’t conducted active shooter/assailant and mass casualty incident training together, can also create challenges,” notes DeMeo. “Ongoing, on-site training and information sharing with key stakeholders within the vertical is paramount to combat the ever-evolving threat continuum.”
Public and Private Police Departments Team Up
Ubbens says one of his favorite examples of a great P3 is a well-known private university where he lives (in North Carolina) that has their own campus police department. Rather than the typical extra-territorial jurisdiction of a specified area around campus that most campus police have, this police department, a private entity, has full city jurisdiction as law enforcement.
“When the school year starts, they partner up and they have one city officer and one campus officer riding together in tandem with a memorandum of understanding, an MOU, because they know many of the new students head towards downtown and may have some issues,” Ubbens says. “This is a very unique situation because you don’t usually see a public and a private entity working side by side like that. But it’s for the common good and allows the campus police officer to access and share information about students as needed that the city officer would not have access to.”
A big proponent of the greater good, Ubbens wishes enterprises would look at how they can help the public instead of operating strictly from a defensive position. “There are huge benefits to PP3s, but we have to get over the liability concerns that thwart the most positive aspects of it,” he says.