Securing Multi-building Facilities

Many of us can imagine—or have even experienced—this scenario: on a day just like any other day on campus, the first morning bell rings as students file into their classes. As instructors begin their lessons, cell phones start to buzz with an emergency campus alert. Panic fills the room as students read the notification of an active shooter on campus and that all classrooms need to immediately go into lockdown. Alerts like these are the first step in saving lives in a situation that has become commonplace. According to the New York Times, situations involving active shooters occurred 647 times in 2022.

These emergencies are in addition to other health and fire emergencies. Institutions of higher education must ask themselves whether their multi-building facility is prepared to face circumstances like these. Another important consideration is whether the emergency alert system meets the demands required to keep the campus, faculty, students, and visitors safe. In an environment where potential threats are increasing daily, every campus facility needs to have plans, equipment, and properly trained people ready to act at a moment’s notice.

Higher education building security is a crucial aspect of any institution, and all members of the campus community should feel safe and protected while on campus. Campus security measures are put in place to deter criminal activity, respond to emergencies, and aid anyone—regardless of their physical abilities—in need. To establish a safe and secure campus, effective security policies and procedures must be implemented. The most important aspect of building security is emergency preparedness. Educational institutions must have plans in place to respond to diverse types of emergencies. Such emergencies may include natural disasters, active shooter situations, and other critical incidents. These plans should be regularly reviewed and updated to ensure that they are effective and up to date.

Additionally, one of the most important emergency planning attributes campus leaders need to determine is if all buildings meet “Area of Refuge” requirements. An area of refuge—also known as a safe area, or safe haven—is a designated location within a building or structure that provides a temporary safe place for individuals with disabilities or mobility impairments during an emergency. These safe areas are designed to provide a means of protection and ease of evacuation for individuals who are unable to use stairs or move quickly. In times before areas of refuge were required, individuals with disabilities and mobility impairments were often unable to evacuate buildings safely and efficiently during emergency situations. This situation was due to the lack of accessibility additions in buildings such as elevators or ramps. With the implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), buildings now include accommodations for individuals with disabilities, including designated areas of refuge.

Each building’s area of refuge should be located near an exit stairway to provide quick and easy access to evacuation routes. It is vital that these safe areas are appropriately marked and well-identified with clear signage, so that individuals with disabilities and mobility impairments can easily locate them in case of an emergency. Building owners and managers should also ensure that the safe areas are regularly maintained and adequately equipped to address potential emergency situations. Additionally, the area should contain communication devices, such as intercoms or telephones, to allow for contact with emergency personnel.

Another key component of campus security is the presence of personnel who are trained to respond to emergencies. Campus police officers, security guards, and other campus safety professionals play a critical role in keeping buildings secure and students and staff safe. Officers are responsible for patrolling the campus, responding to incidents, and addressing any security concerns that may arise. Not only do these personnel have to be in place, but the correct volume also needs to be staffed per area or event. These personnel will require reliable security equipment that is available and responsive the second it is needed. Regardless of training, this equipment should be straight-forward to use and be placed in critical campus locations. Such devices include emergency phones, panic buttons, and blue light towers. Device styles change when it comes to location. A classroom may require a panic button, while a secure parking ramp door may simply require a keypad that requires a code or an authorized fob to access.

Educational institutions must have effective communication systems in place to disseminate information quickly and accurately to students and faculty members in the event of an emergency. Beyond on-site equipment, emergency notification systems need to be in place that can reach all students and faculty members in a timely manner through email, text messages, phone calls, and other means. Access control is another vital component of running secure facilities. This consideration includes implementing measures such as keycard access, security gates, and security cameras in key areas around the campus. Such gatekeeping helps to limit access to sensitive areas and prevent unauthorized individuals from gaining entry.

On top of safeguarding against threats from people, fire safety is another critical aspect of maintaining a safe living or working environment. Fires can cause significant property damage, injury, and loss of life. Therefore, campus planners must have a clear understanding of fire safety procedures and precautions. The first step in fire safety is prevention. Most fires can be prevented through taking common-sense measures, such as not leaving cooking unattended, avoiding the use of flammable liquids indoors, and maintaining electrical appliances. Smoke detectors and properly rated fire extinguishers should be installed in buildings to ensure that—in the event of a fire—it can be quickly detected, controlled, and extinguished. Fire safety is not always just about large fires.

Preparation is equally crucial to fight small fires; treating those quickly will prevent large and out of control flames. Campus planners need to research the type of fire extinguisher required for specific types of fires and how to use them effectively. Fire extinguishers should be easily accessible and inspected regularly to ensure that they are in good working condition. Often, local fire departments or volunteers will be willing to come to campus and offer fire extinguisher proper use training. More knowledge on the topic will allow members of the campus community to act quickly and calmly. Additionally, it is essential to be aware of the hazards of smoke and toxic gases. In the event of a fire, smoke inhalation and toxic gases can cause severe health problems or loss of consciousness, which can be deadly. Therefore, it is important to install smoke detectors and have a clear plan of action in place if smoke or toxic fumes are present.

Campuses must also have emergency evacuation plans in place. These plans can vary depending on the situation, but getting people outside quickly and efficiently should be the goal. The plan should include clear instructions on what to do in the event of an emergency and should be practiced regularly. Such preparation will enable occupants of buildings to exit the premises quickly and efficiently, thereby reducing the risk of injury or loss of life.

Educational institutions must also invest in training and education for students, faculty, and staff on campus security. This training includes active shooter training, emergency response training, natural disaster, and security awareness training. These training programs can help to increase awareness and improve response times in the event of an emergency.

Campus security is essential in ensuring the safety and well-being of students, faculty, and staff on educational campuses. Implementing effective security policies and procedures, personnel, access control measures, emergency preparedness plans, communication systems, and training programs can make a significant difference in creating a safe and secure campus environment. By providing designated safe areas with appropriate accommodations and communication devices, building owners and managers can help ensure that everyone can evacuate safely and efficiently during emergency situations.

About the Author
John Hepokoski has a BA in IT and manages purchasing/social media at Viking Electronics. John enjoys travelling and camping with his wife, Kridhita. He is an avid fan of the Green Bay Packers.