‘Selling’ Campus Security: The Importance of Communication

Develop appropriate dialogue with your campus stakeholders and adopt policies and safeguards so your security initiatives will run smoothly.

“What we’ve got here is (a) failure to communicate.” —Cool Hand Luke.

Communication. Millions of movies, songs and books have been written about it. Talk shows regularly discuss how you can improve it. Marriages and business partnerships frequently break up over it when it’s done poorly. Countries go to war due to the lack of it. There are even college degrees in it. Indeed, everyone seems to struggle with communication at one point or another in their lives.

I see this frequently when school, university or hospital protection professionals try to implement new security measures or technologies. They don’t effectively communicate to all of their stakeholders how their new program or technology will work, nor do they adopt and then explain the precautions they are taking so the program or technology won’t be applied inappropriately.

We experienced this in the nineties with the expanded deployment of video surveillance. Some Americans feared that the extensive placement of cameras on campuses and in U.S. cities would turn our country into a Big Brother-type of society. Fast forward more than two decades, however, and American society as a whole appears to be much more comfortable with the technology.

Now, similar concerns are being expressed about radio frequency identification (RFID), GPS tracking software and biometrics. The best ways to overcome these fears are:

  1. Be certain administrators, executives and staff have a clear understanding of the technology and how it works.
  2. Develop and enforce appropriate policies and protocols so the technology won’t be misused. For example, with video surveillance, policies should include specifically outlining who has access to the video, limiting how the images are used and limiting the scope of the program, as well as providing security of the video at all times via encryption and physical access control. Controls similar to these, as well as other controls, can be implemented with technologies like biometrics, GPS and RFID.
  3. Most importantly, school, university and hospital officials must communicate items No. 1 and No. 2 with the public, students, parents, staff and the media before the solution is deployed so they understand it, can ask questions about it and have a voice in how it will be implemented. This can be accomplished via letters, E-mails, social media, traditional media and in-person meetings.

Sounds like common sense, right? Despite this, I see over and over and over again campus protection executives adopting programs and technologies without following these three steps. They implement the changes without telling anyone or ram it down their throats. Additionally, campuses might not adopt the precautions required to ensure the new solutions will be properly applied.

The results of approaches that don’t follow the three steps I’ve outlined are predictable: angry and/or afraid parents, students and/or staff, bad PR, the potential for your security investment to be a complete bust and lawsuits.

Probably the best example of this occurred at the Lower Merion School District in Pennsylvania a few years back. It paid out more than $610,000 to settle two lawsuits that claimed the district spied on students in their homes using the cameras in school-issued laptops.

The case came about when the school board issued nearly 2,300 laptops to students at two high schools to use in class and to take home daily. However, district officials did not inform students or parents that school personnel could remotely track the computers and turn on the embedded webcams. The webcam snapped hundreds of photos of one student in his bedroom. Afterward, the student was called on the carpet by school officials because the photos appeared to show he was taking pills, which turned out to be Mike & Ike candy.

Don’t let something like this happen to your school, university or hospital. Adopting appropriate use policies, clear communication and transparency are the keys to the success of your security initiatives.

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About the Author

robin hattersley headshot

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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