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In Honor of 9/11, Let’s Keep It Real

With this being the five-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and with the discovery of another alleged al-Qaida plot in August, it’s only fitting that those of us in the campus community take stock.

We need to have a clear picture of our accomplishments as well as our vulnerabilities to terrorism so we can continue to protect our facilities and, more importantly, the people in them.

First, let’s look at what has gone right. As I write this article, we have not had a successful repeat attack on American soil. As far as campuses are concerned, some of the factors that have probably contributed to the lack of activity include:

  • Improved intelligence sharing among law enforcement personnel at all levels
  • Increased public and government awareness that tragedies like 9/11 can occur in America. This has paved the way for an increased focus on and funding for security initiatives.
  • Wider adoption of electronic security equipment (such as access control systems, CCTV, asset management and metal/bomb detection), and physical security as well as the integration of all of these systems via IT networks to provide a more complete and realistic view of what is occurring on each campus
  • A whole-campus approach where a wide range of personnel come together to keep campuses safe and secure
  • Luck

Call me a pessimist, but we should not forget to appreciate that the last point has been a crucial factor in keeping our campuses, as well as our country in general, safe. Now I know that most of us don’t like to be alarmists, but the reality remains that most campuses are soft targets. I mention this because we might be falling into the trap of thinking terrorism won’t touch us. Now, five years after 9/11, it seems like many of us are too focused on public relations, possibly painting an overly optimistic security picture.

I know it is important for a campus to attract students, patients, faculty, nurses and doctors. It is also extremely difficult to balance all of the safety and security needs along with the sometimes competing agendas and world views of various personalities and departments.

Still, I hope our PR isn’t lulling the public into complacency, particularly with regard to the topic of terrorism. What would be even more dangerous is if those of us in the campus safety and security community started believing our own spin and lost sight of our true vulnerabilities. The reality is a Beslan massacre could happen here.

So does that mean we should panic or overreact? No. Should we plan for terrorist events at the exclusion of other risks? Absolutely not. Should we turn our schools, hospitals and universities into fortresses with officers carrying assault weapons? I don’t think so.

I do hope, however, we don’t forget to give the threat of terrorism the respect and attention it deserves. That means adopting realistic preventive measures, as well as an all-hazards approach to response. If we don’t do these things and an attack does occur on one of our campuses, then we’ll have a real nightmare that makes any PR blunder pale by comparison.

But what is the difference between being prepared and being paranoid? Between being realistic and being ridiculous? Between being forward-thinking and being fear-based? Those are the challenges campuses must face everyday, and you can bet Campus Safety will continue to explore these questions.

In the meantime, be safe and let the wake-up call we had in August be a reminder of the lessons we all learned on that September day five years ago.

Robin Hattersley Gray is executive editor of Campus Safety Magazine and can be reached at robin.gray@bobit.com.

For the complete version of this article, please refer to the September/October 2006 issue of Campus Safety Magazine.

About the Author

Robin Hattersley Gray
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Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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