Academic Excellence Requires a Culture of Safety

A university is a complex community; so, too, are the safety issues. From petty theft to acts of violence, minors abusing alcohol to sexual assaults, the spectrum of issues is unfortunately part of the day-to-day security operations.

To combat these problems there must be a comprehensive, sophisticated and professional system in place. All successful programs incorporate checks and balances. There must be an investment in planning, preparation, technology, and, most importantly, in people. The reputation of a university is as dependent on the perception of safety as its academic success.

A direct example of the implications can be valued in the very public Penn State Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal, which was exposed in 2011. Although the victims of his crimes were neither students nor faculty, his behaviors were directly aligned with the university and its reputation. The Sandusky crimes were believed to have occurred from 1994-2009. In the wake of the investigation, Sandusky was sentenced on 45 counts, with a sentencing range of 30-60 years imprisonment. Three other school officials were charged with obstruction of justice, perjury and failure to report. The scandal devastated a proud, successful and thriving university community. The devastation went far beyond the criminal implications. The “Freeh Report,” titled after the former FBI Director who led the private investigation into the university’s failure, described the systemic problem as a failed culture.

The culture of any environment is defined by, led by and accountable to leadership. According to the report, leadership failed to establish a disciplined culture designed to properly respond to this event. Although the event has long since concluded, the damages roll on. An article by Business Insider, published September of 2014, estimated PSU losses of $60 million in fines, $29 million in projected revenue, along with considerable penalties to scholarships and programs.

This can be described as an egregious example of what occurs when attention to detail is lost. It is consistent with the Broken Windows theory. Prevent small crimes from occurring and you will establish a lawful environment, reducing the likelihood of severe crime. Establish and demand commitment to a culture of safety and security.

Critical Elements for a Sound Program

A holistic plan requires many working parts, but I would like to talk about a few of the more critical elements to establish a sound program.

Leadership: It begins with Leadership. Stakeholders must determine the university’s stance on security. When determining stance, it must come with commitment, led by example. It also means consistent management and penalties, regardless of the status of the violator.

Whether a board member, star athlete or lesser known student, everyone must be held to the same standard. I’m sure there are many who would laugh at the previous sentence, believing it to be naïve, yet institutions committed to a higher level of integrity see a more rapid recovery and long term sustainability than those with a pattern of preferential treatment. Leadership must determine the pathway to properly fund the resources within the security plan.

As a former law enforcement professional, I have been asked if “Internal Affairs” is effective in keeping cops honest. I would tell you Internal Affairs is too late to the game to keep a cop honest. They are reactive to a problem already exposed. Law enforcement has a lesser known division called “Inspections.”

Auditing and Inspections: This team conducts ongoing evaluations to find trends or shortcomings. The objective is to identify errors or questionable patterns before they become problems. Correct the behavior early and prevent it from becoming systemic. Find the weak link, or the individual falling short of standards and make organizational decisions before their actions define the organization. An Auditing/ Inspections team should report directly to leadership, while working in coordination but independently of all other divisions. This team should be diverse in skill set, with objectives to build a stronger organization.

The Many Responsibilities of Security Personnel

Security personnel are extremely important, holding many responsibilities. The Security Director should be empowered with a direct line of communication to a designated university leadership official. This will minimize the potential for information to be misinterpreted or misrepresented. I remember as a young man in school, we were instructed to perform an exercise. Ten students were lined up, and the teacher whispered a relatively brief statement in the first student’s ear. That student was then asked to privately share it with the next student, and so on. We all know how this ended up – the information had changed dramatically.

This pattern of behavior still exists; therefore, it is important to empower the appropriate individual to communicate directly with a designated stakeholder regarding all critical events. By heightening accountability, we minimize miscommunication.

Security personnel must identify threats, act as ambassadors and information resources, safety facilitators and more. As the Managing Director for a large security company, I have observed a consistent problem affecting providers and clients. We collectively fall short in three areas: (1) defining objectives, (2) developing comprehensive response plans, and (3) delivering effective training. Staff members come with a broad spectrum of skill sets.

Some are brand new to the industry, while others may have law enforcement or military backgrounds. The key is to provide clear and concise instruction regarding authority and expectations. I was involved in a media related event during the 2015 Super Bowl. I was on the stadium grounds several days before the game when a security officer approached me. He told me I could not stay on the property, directing me outside the fence line. A short time later another guard approached me outside the fence line and told me I had to move beyond the perimeter of the property, so I moved to the public sidewalk. I continued to do my work from the sidewalk when a third guard engaged me and said I could not stand on the sidewalk and had to move to the street. Sound ridiculous?

It was, but it wasn’t the fault of the guards. It was obvious they were on high alert, and the instruction they received was unclear regarding property lines and expectations. Relate this circumstance to a variety posed to security. Are the instructions, expectations, and their level of authority clear? Does the least experienced guard have all the information necessary to apply their authority properly?

Good Communication is Critical in Emergency Situations

Good communication is critical in emergency situations to increase response times and reduce confusion, panic, misinformation, and possible injuries. All universities should have a communication plan in place that includes the following components:

• Establish a liaison and regular communication with local law enforcement and community leaders

• Install systems that provide communication with all people at the school including faculty, staff, students, and emergency response teams

• Establish protocol and systems – such as email – that provide alerts and to communicate with students, the surrounding community and even the students’ parents in emergency situations

• Develop a procedure for communicating with the public and the media regarding security issues

Target Hardening

Target Hardening has become a familiar term for the private sector. It means strengthening the security of a building or installation to protect it in the event of attack or reduce the risk of theft. Access control systems, CCTV, bollards, alarms, public address systems and other technology can be an asset to security in schools and other types of facilities. “You don’t know what you don’t know”; therefore, it is important to have a trained expert evaluate the campus and determine methods and techniques to strengthen the foundation of the landscape and buildings.

I share three factors with my clients when discussing safety: Time, Distance, and Barriers. The more timely the alert to a threat, the more Time you have to respond. The greater Distance, the greater the safety. If the first two are unavailable, a Barrier may provide protection.

Target hardening is about barriers. Barriers can be physical or psychological. Physical barriers are obvious; psychological barriers are interpretive. Signage such as “this property is monitored by surveillance cameras” or “beware of dog” could be considered psychological barriers. An intruder believes there are security measures, thus chooses to move on. The outcome was effective without having a physical barrier in place.

Training Programs

If people, tools and technology are the ingredients, then Training Programs are the recipe bringing it all together. The success or failure of a security program will be dependent on the quality and frequency of training. It is not realistic to have barriers everywhere, but you can train to more effectively utilize the available barriers. The culture of safety is reinforced by expanding the training to a broader audience. Faculty, administrators, support staff and service providers should all be enlisted for safety training. There is no better way to prepare for emergencies than training and education. Knowing what to do can save lives and reduce injury of staff and students.

One of President Obama’s recent executive orders was to “provide law enforcement, first responders, and school officials with proper training for active shooter situations.” This should help raise awareness and funding for school emergency training and response programs. Education practices that should be followed include:

• Train staff to know and follow standardized procedures in an emergency and incorporate security into employee training programs

• Provide security information and training to all students

• Conduct regular exercises for active shooters. For years students have been exposed to fire, earthquake, and even bomb drills. The most effective way to train your faculty and staff to respond to an active shooter situation is to conduct mock active shooter training

• Include local law enforcement and first responders during your training exercises, and encourage law enforcement and emergency responders to train for an active shooter scenario at your location.

The protective measures outlined in this article are just some of the things higher education institutions should implement today to decrease facility vulnerabilities, as well as deter and minimize the effects of future school shootings.

About the Author
Paul Penzone is a nationally recognized expert in promoting safe and secure environments, across many industries. Paul Penzone’s unique combination of experience in law enforcement, multi-jurisdictional investigations, program development and operations provided the basis to develop programs that successfully reduce and mitigate threats.