By now, I suspect all of you have reviewed the Reynoso Task Force Report that was released last week, harshly criticizing University of California (UC) Davis’ pepper spraying of protesters last November. In short, the 190-page review concluded that the incident “should and could have been prevented” and that UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi, Chief of Police Annette Spicuzza, other UC Davis administrators, Lt. John Pike and other campus public safety officers made critical errors in their attempts to remove “Occupy” protesters and their encampments from the campus Quad.
Another report that also came out earlier this month from the Center for American Progress estimated the Virginia Tech 2007 mass shooting cost the university and taxpayers $48.2 million. Although I believe the actual expense of the tragedy will be much higher, the amount cited in the report is still staggering. According to the estimate, Virginia Tech paid $38.77 million of the total.
Let’s also remember some of the other incidents that have occurred recently: the Oikos University mass shooting, the Miramonte Elementary school sex abuse scandal, the University of Pittsburgh psychiatric clinic shooting, the Chardon High School shooting… I could go on and on.
Although the likelihood of a big security incident occurring on a campus is statistically quite low, if or when one does occur, the political, publicity and financial fallout can be huge. Despite the risks, however, nearly half of top campus administrators don’t take public safety and security seriously or they are naïve about the threats. According to Campus Safety magazine’s last salary survey, 49% of university respondents, 43% of K-12 school respondents and 42% of hospital respondents indicated this was one of their top five concerns.
I’m not quite sure how to resolve this issue. Laws – especially ones that aren’t enforced or funded – aren’t very effective. For example, only 66 of Illinois’ 185 colleges and universities have filed the emergency management and violence prevention plans required by legislation that was passed after the 2008 shooting at Northern Illinois, reports the Chicago Tribune. The plans were due by January 2009, but no state agency is responsible for reviewing their effectiveness, and the $25 million committed to helping schools comply has not materialized.
Other laws like the Clery Act that have teeth and are enforced, however, do help raise awareness among administrators, as well as campus public safety practitioners.
That being said, I still hear from many of you who are directly involved in campus public safety (police, security, emergency management and risk management) that you continue to struggle to get your top administrators involved in things like National Incident Management System (NIMS) training. The UC Davis report claims the school’s leadership team failed to initiate the Incident Command System (ICS)/California’s Standardized Emergency Management System (SEMS). (Note: I do not know if Katehi and/or other UC Davis administrators were trained on NIMS/SEMS. It should also be noted that in recent years, the campus has adopted several best practices, such as participating in full-scale emergency response exercises.)
This is not to say that all campus executives have their heads in the sand when it comes to public safety. Although nearly half don’t take it seriously, that leaves the other 50% (more than 50% actually), who do. Additionally, the perceptions of the respondents to our surveys are only their perceptions. Many of their administrators might be very concerned about public safety, but they believe they are forced to make difficult choices based on their current budget realities. Of course, when you have huge tragedy-related expenses like those incurred by Virginia Tech, the budget argument seems pretty weak.
I’m not sure what it’s going to take to get all top campus administrators to pay closer attention to safety and security. I do hope they are aware of what has been going on at institutions like UC Davis and Virginia Tech. Those who are aware and respond with the appropriate policies, plans and technologies are much more likely to do the right thing when an unfortunate – and admittedly low probability – incident does occur.