By Robin Hattersley Gray · November 1, 2016
Those of us in campus security and public safety often get categorized as the “Debbie Downers” or “Doctors of Doom” of our organizations because we’re usually the first ones to identify safety and security problems and vulnerabilities.
It’s our job, after all, to deal with (or in my case cover) the dark side of humanity and life: active shooters, workplace violence, sexual assault, terrorism, dating and domestic violence, natural disasters, Hazmat incidents, etc. Who could blame us for feeling sad, scared and hopeless once in a while?
What I’ve found in writing for Campus Safety magazine for more than a decade now, however, is that the individuals who are the most successful and have the greatest impact in the hospital, school and university public safety profession are those who view problems as opportunities.
For example, Byron Thurmond — who was with Houston ISD’s division of security maintenance for 34 years — told me recently how frustrated he always feels when he hears, “We have no funding.”
“I see challenges as opportunities,” he told me. “If you have a maintenance account, then there is an opportunity to retrofit. If you can repair it, you can replace it. Maybe we can’t do the entire building, but we can do the front door.” (For my full interview with Thurmond, check out Sage Advice from a School Security Veteran)
Another example is when Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) officials wanted to replace their old outdoor sirens. They realized it would be costly to simply replace what was currently installed. However, instead of throwing up their hands and doing nothing, they conducted a sound propagation study, which identified a way they could completely replace their siren system and provide better audible coverage for a lot less money. (See Getting More Bang for Your Emergency Notification Buck)
The opportunities for turning lemons into lemonade don’t just apply to technology.
Some of you in higher ed and K-12 districts may be frustrated by the current focus on Title IX compliance. The opportunity here, however, is that this focus forces people to work together who normally don’t or won’t communicate. This gives us the chance to provide a more holistic solution to sexual violence, as well as many other issues.
Up until recently, mental health, victim advocates, health and nursing, student services, athletics, police, technology, student conduct, facilities and others on campus rarely talked to each other. That’s changing, and that’s an opportunity to make a change for the better.
Take sexual assault for example. Title IX coordinators can partner with athletics so they understand the challenges athletes face, while coaches develop a better understanding of how to comply with the law. Campus police and SROs can partner with mental health practitioners so that officers have a better understanding of behavioral health issues, while, at the same time, counselors develop a better understanding of the issues facing public safety.
Stalking victim advocates who work with IT will do a better job of protecting survivors from stalking via their cell phones, laptops and tablets, and IT personnel will develop a greater understanding of the challenges associated with technology and crime.
In hospitals, security officers can partner with the behavioral health department so officers better understand how to manage psychiatric patients, while, at the same time behavioral health personnel learn how to better work with the security department. The list of potential opportunities is endless.
Don’t get me wrong; hospital, school and university security, public safety and emergency management is not for the faint of heart. It’s a tough job, and I have real compassion for those of us — including myself — who on occasion get down and overwhelmed by the enormity of our responsibilities.
That said, you, your organization and society as a whole will greatly benefit from you being realistically optimistic about the opportunities in front of you.
Don’t just take my word for it. A study done by Sophia Chou, who is an organizational psychology researcher at National Taiwan University, has found that people with a glass-half-full attitude are much more successful, healthier and happier than pessimists.
This doesn’t mean we should be in denial about some of the terrible things that happen. It means being realistically optimistic with the hope that our perceived problem might actually be a blessing in disguise.
So the next time you face a problem, try to look at it as an opportunity to grow. It just might make you better at your job, not to mention healthier and happier. It might even make the world a better place in the long run. Have faith.