3 big steps on the road to college safety

What campus leaders need to know about floor plans, 911 and law enforcement relationships
By: | Issue: October, 2018
September 24, 2018

The near weekly occurrence of school shootings has students, faculty and staff feeling like potential victims. Academic administrators are hurriedly seeking ways to keep their campuses from being in tomorrow’s headlines.

Conversations with education professionals reveal a pervasive fear, an absence of answers and a sense of powerlessness. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

As traumatic as school shootings are, security professionals have learned critical lessons from them. Below are three important steps that can be taken proactively at any campus.

1. Remove floor plans from publicly accessible websites

Providing floor plans to campus buildings, including to popular gathering spots such as student centers and dorms, is common practice for most academic institutions. However, including this information online poses a significant security threat to the entire campus community.

A quick Google search can yield detailed schematics of interior spaces in high schools and universities in every city and state—information that would otherwise only be available to someone with repeated personal access to a building or facility.

To minimize this risk, administrators should place all floor plans within the secure portal of the institution’s website, the same secure location where students and faculty manage class schedules, pay bills, and view assignments and grades. This makes them accessible to those who need them, while restricting them from the general public.

2. Explain the 411 on 911

Calling 911 can be hard. Most young people have never called 911 and have no idea what to expect. Those who do make the call may be under stress, which affects their ability to accurately convey information.

Providing guidance on when to call, what information to relate, and how to convey that information increases the precision of responding officers, helps them gauge an appropriate response, and allows everyone in the campus community to play a role in keeping themselves and their campus safe.

One way to do this is to create a public service information video that demonstrates how to calmly and responsibly convey information to a 911 or campus security operator. It’s a great project that students can participate in, under the guidance of security professionals.

Once created, the video can be shared over social media with all members of the campus community. With some professional guidance and direction, students, faculty and staff can become the vigilant eyes and ears of campus.

3. Understand that there’s no such thing as oversharing

How should a campus community member proceed if they learn of information on a threat? A common mistake is thinking information flows seamlessly between law enforcement agencies. If this were true, then a call to a single law enforcement contact would be sufficient. It’s not.

To overcome this communication gap, institutions should have at least three points of contact in law enforcement—one at each level—with whom they can actively engage and to whom they can simultaneously pass all tips and information.

These three points of contact should include local law enforcement, state law enforcement and federal law enforcement (usually the FBI).

If the campus administration does not already have contacts at all three levels, find a security professional who can make the introductions and create a system of communication with a dedicated point of contact in each.

These relationships have to be dutifully maintained as both campus personnel and law enforcement professionals can change over time.

Achieving a truly safe campus environment requires planning and expertise. Planning starts with a comprehensive physical security assessment to ensure that vulnerabilities unique to a particular campus are not overlooked.

A proper campus safety plan can keep students sitting and learning at their desks, not hiding underneath them.


Christopher Ryan is managing director at K2 Intelligence, a New York-based investigative and compliance services firm.