The Plan in a Can – Unreliable and Vulnerable in Court

Be sure to tailor your crisis plan to your campus’ specific needs.

For nearly twenty years now, some campus organizations have relied upon crisis plans that have been purchased, copied or downloaded with no real customization.  Often referred to by emergency management professionals as a “plan in a can,” these types of plans often look very good to the untrained eye.  Eye catching graphics, decision making matrixes and other visual features make these types of plans look very organized, thoughtfully developed and professional. There are some problems though.  Namely, that this approach to planning cannot work well and is extremely easy to attack in a court of law when serious injury or death results.

While customizable planning templates used by a number of state and federal government agencies can work very well, plans that cannot be tailored to fit local conditions are inherently problematic. One reason for this is that these types of plans cannot reflect the unique local conditions of any one campus organization. We have worked with campus organizations where the first responding law enforcement officer will likely not arrive for 20 to 30 minutes. Lockdown protocols that might work well for a community where five to 10 officers can be on the scene in two to four minutes may not work well where one law enforcement officer may arrive 20 minutes after a 911 call is placed. 

Another reason that this approach to planning is so ineffective involves the loss of discussion and collaboration that occurs when plans are not developed by a local multidisciplinary planning team. For example, I have never worked with a campus crisis plan development team where critical questions did not arise while team members were discussing what action steps needed to say. Vendors tend to push clients towards fixed plans because it requires less work of them and it is easier for them to protect their intellectual property. However, my personal experience as an expert witness has been that this approach has contributed to multiple deaths. Sadly, this approach will likely cause more deaths in the future.

Take the time to develop plans that are tailored to local risks, resources and realities. It takes more time and energy, but the lives of those you protect are worth the effort.

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 Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety magazine.

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About the Author


Michael Dorn serves as the Executive Director of Safe Havens International, a global non profit campus safety center. During his 30 year campus safety career, Michael has served as a university police officer, corporal, sergeant and lieutenant. He served as a school system police chief for ten years before being appointed the lead expert for the nation's largest state government K-20 school safety center. The author of 25 books on school safety, his work has taken him to Central America, Mexico, Canada, Europe, Asia, South Africa and the Middle East. Michael welcomes comments, questions or requests for clarification at Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety magazine.

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