Sometimes Fear Is Not Our Friend

I was 22 and my car started making a funny noise, so I took it to my local dealership for a checkup. Except for the strange sound, there was nothing to indicate there were any major problems.

Imagine my surprise, then, when the mechanic told me I needed a new clutch. “It works now, but any day now you could be driving home late in the evening and your clutch could go. Who knows what could happen?” he warned.

After hearing those words, fear shot through my body. Being young, naïve and knowing nothing about cars, I envisioned the clutch giving out and me losing control on the freeway, resulting in a horrible crash. Fortunately, I was a starving student who couldn’t afford to pay for the new clutch right then and there. Instead, I drove my car home, fearing it would break down any minute.

Luckily, my dear ol’ dad lived close by, and he promptly came down to my place to inspect my car. The problem wasn’t that I needed a new clutch. My car just had a couple of loose bolts that needed some tightening.

I’m telling you about my experience because it demonstrates the power of fear and our vulnerability to the scare tactics sometimes used by others. In my case, had I not been broke, my fear would have driven me to pay hundreds of dollars for a new but unnecessary clutch.

The fear resulting from the recent school, university and hospital shootings could lead campuses to do the same thing, only for unnecessary safety and security programs and equipment. Let’s not allow the terror of these tragedies to lead us to overreact and make unwise decisions. Panicking will merely make us vulnerable to so-called “experts” with dubious credentials who want to take advantage of our fear and budgets. What would be even more dangerous is if they divert our attention from our real vulnerabilities to less likely threats so they can make a quick buck or achieve their own political agendas.

The recent shootings have heightened the public’s awareness about the need for better campus safety and security. This is a healthy awareness and will probably open the door for additional attention to and support for these very important yet often neglected issues. But with this opportunity comes the responsibility to address campus vulnerabilities with a level head. If you’re a hospital, school or university administrator or law enforcement official now accepting proposals for upgraded security from various vendors and consultants, remember to choose them wisely. There are a lot of excellent solutions and consultants out there, but selecting the right ones can make a world of difference.

Additionally, it is critical you learn about the systems, equipment or services you are considering. Armed with this information, you’ll be less likely to let fear cloud your judgment. You’ll also reduce your susceptibility to unscrupulous persons who pass themselves off as “security consultants.” It is our mission, here at Campus Safety, to help guide you through this process.

On the other side of the equation, if you are a security director or chief of police responsible for pitching security and safety upgrades, others on your campus who previously may not have been sympathetic to your pleas may now be more receptive. I strongly urge you, however, to not oversell your site’s vulnerabilities. That tactic may damage your credibility with your internal and external stakeholders in the long run.

I learned this very important lesson with the vehicle drama I described above. I never went back to that car dealership, and I still warn all of my friends and acquaintances never to go there. And how did my vehicle perform after the bolts were tightened? Perfectly. In fact, I drove that same car for another 120,000 miles. It never did need a new clutch.

Don’t get me wrong: Many campuses definitely need improved protection. Still, exaggerating our risks or being swept away by hysteria will inevitably backfire and, ironically, leave us more vulnerable.

Robin Hattersley Gray is executive editor of Campus Safety Magazine and can be reached at

For the unabridged version of this article, please refer to the November/December 2006 issue of Campus Safety Magazine. To subscribe, go to

About the Author

Robin Hattersley Gray

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.

Read More Articles Like This… With A FREE Subscription

Campus Safety magazine is another great resource for public safety, security and emergency management professionals. It covers all aspects of campus safety, including access control, video surveillance, mass notification and security staff practices. Whether you work in K-12, higher ed, a hospital or corporation, Campus Safety magazine is here to help you do your job better!

Get your free subscription today!

Subscribe Today!

Get Our Newsletters
Campus Safety Conference Registration Open Promo Campus Safety HQ