Tuesday, February 5, 2008

campus safety after Virginia Tech

Many of my colleagues in the campus security community are feverishly spending money to buy various emergency notification systems, because, apparently the lessons learned from Virginia Tech, it is believed, include some kind of emergency notification system. Buz thinks that they might be useful, not so much to help in an incident such as this, but just so that the school can say they have it to defend itself in a lawsuit.

Even if such a system were in place at VT, it would not have been used because the police thought the incident was confined and under control. In fact there were officers in the dorm where the original two murders happened, but did not say anything about it to students who were entering and leaving. Besides, what would one say? Gee, we've got 2 people killed here, so watch out?! What should we do, Mr. Security!? Go to class? Go Home? Go to the dorm?

A cursory look at some of the uses of the emergency notification systems since VT show that they are only one tool of many and often are not terribly helpful.

The key component of any system such as this is: who makes the decision to send out the message and what message do they send out.

Only the largest schools, with some exceptions, want to spend the money to have skilled full-time professional-level people present or available to make the decisions quickly. Usually these incident happen very quickly and there is a sense of unbelievability and denial which accompanies it.

1 comment:

SERAPH said...


The SERAPH Research Team, consisting of education and law enforcement experts, has discovered five reasons for unsafe college campuses.

The SERAPH Research Team provides a bi-yearly school-safety report for Congress and in 2006 prepared an assessment of the “The Virginia Tech Review Panel Report”.

In its analysis of security concerns at colleges and universities across the country, SERAPH has determined:

1. Since the Columbine massacre in 1999, police departments across the United States have been training in “active shooter” response. This has been a well-established practice for use in public [K-12] schools.

However, our survey of college and university security directors and police chiefs shows that few have had this training. Two reasons were given: Administrators often do not want to pay for the training or in some cases bar campus security/police from participating in training to avoid what they perceived to be a "militaristic campus atmosphere”.

2. College administrators have no training in security or police operations and as a result micromanage security operations on their campuses. This is problematic because of the obvious delay it causes in response time. In addition, when a college or university has a police department, administrative micromanagement can violate state law regarding obstruction of justice.

3. A proper security audit is vitally important to campus security. However, our survey of security directors / police chiefs indicates that most college administrators will not allow these assessments to be done out of fear of liability exposure and the chance the audit would require changes in management systems.

4. Threat assessment as a science has existed in the United States since the early 1940s. Predication and prevention of violence is a critical aspect of campus security and one that, in SERAPH’s experience, seriously is lacking on higher-education campuses. All Resident Assistants, security / police and department administrators should be trained to identify violent behavior in students, staff and visitors.

A lack of systematic monitoring of people on campus contributes to crime.

5. An emergency plan is only as good as the data in it and the ability of key personnel to use it effectively.

Training is important for the effective management of an emergency by key personnel. You cannot ask untrained people to do what trained people do.

SERAPH Research Team: http://www.seraph.net/about_seraph.html