Effective Active Shooter Response Starts with Integrated Campus Solutions

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Campus protection professionals know there’s no single security system that prepares a campus against every threat. That’s why emergency preparedness is a full-time job that requires constant diligence to maintain and improve the safety of a school or university.

Officials who are less familiar with the nature of emergencies might be content to invest in something like access control and move on, but anyone with experience responding to emergencies knows that approach has significant flaws.

Of course, systems such as access control, video management and mass notification are a key part of protecting any campus, but if used on their own they can leave communities vulnerable. A holistic approach to emergency preparedness is the only effective way to address this challenge. This is particularly true when it comes to active shooter incidents.

Shootings Require Immediate Response

The situation on the ground of a school shooting changes rapidly, meaning the information officers get from a 911 call might not be pertinent for the situation when they walk into a school building, university campus or hospital. Regardless of the situation, officers know they must act quickly if they’re going to make a difference. In 63 active shooter events analyzed by the FBI in which the duration of the event could be determined, 44 were over in five minutes or less, and of those 23 ended in two minutes or less.

“An active shooter is an immediate threat and thus requires an immediate response,” says Thomas Komola, a campus security veteran who ran MIT’s security and management office for 14 years. “You really have to have your ducks in a row to make sure you can immediately gather accurate information and distribute it through the proper channels. You’ve got to deal with everything right away because these incidents don’t last long.”

These days Komola works with campus officials to enhance their emergency preparedness and security infrastructure as a business development manager at Siemens. One of the most common problems Komola sees on campuses is standalone systems that can’t be efficiently leveraged at the height of an emergency.

“Disparate systems really limit the sharing of information and make the whole response less effective,” he says. “They just add to the confusion for everyone and can make timeliness a real issue.”

RELATED: How to Maximize the Intrusion Detection System on Your Campus

There are many ways that systems integration can be a powerful tool during an attack. For example, with connected systems, an official can identify a potential threat using video surveillance and initiate specialized lockdowns and mass notifications based on an attacker’s real-time actions. Video management systems can also be leveraged to give responding officer’s heightened situational awareness and are helpful for after-action reviews and future training.

Integration Offers Many Benefits

Investing in robust, integrated systems can also improve interagency coordination in times of an emergency.

Developing relationships with every emergency response agency in your area is critical. That starts by getting together with the relevant local players ahead of time and putting specific policies in place to determine how everyone will communicate, what everyone’s responsibilities will be and what resources each agency will have access to on campus.

With integrated systems, schools can give law enforcement agencies access to systems such as video surveillance so arriving officers know the situation on campus.

“Getting as much data as possible to the people making decisions is our goal,” says Siemens National Business Manager Kyle Heaton, who has participated in active shooter debriefs. “We try to look at everything from a client perspective to consider exactly what they need to maximize situational awareness during incident management and getting back to normal operations ASAP.”

Previous incidents have shown that if a university isn’t prepared to respond to an emergency, there will be consequences whether there’s a loss of life or not. Clery Act violations are the most obvious way a school can be reprimanded, but other possible downsides include media scrutiny, negative public perception and an impact on student enrollment.

“A lot of times I focus on education and just getting administrators to understand the return on investment for these systems,” Komola says. “Officials don’t always understand how their actions – or their lack of actions – will be viewed after an incident and how these shortfalls can damage perceptions of student safety.”

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