Set the Stage for a Safe Graduation Ceremony

A conscientious plan will safeguard against unforeseen, as well as avoidable emergency situations before, during and following the commencement ceremony without detracting from the overall experience.

Set the Stage for a Safe Graduation Ceremony

Securing the perimeter, having enough security staff, deploying safety measures at event entrances and exits, as well as distributing information on what to expect to event attendees will help prevent undesirable incidents at your graduation ceremony. Photo: Adobe Stock

A commencement ceremony brings people together to celebrate the graduating class’ achievements. It also brings a surge of strangers, many who have never visited the campus. While safety is a year-round priority for schools and universities, campus officials and security department personnel understand that special events precipitate the need for enhanced precautionary and safety efforts.

Graduation is just around the corner, and it can be a stressful time for campus safety managers and staff who are already preparing for the inevitable influx of people on and around campus. A conscientious plan will safeguard against unforeseen, as well as avoidable emergency situations before, during and following the commencement ceremony without detracting from the overall graduation experience. Here are four things your campus safety department can do to facilitate a safe, successful celebration.

Secure the Perimeter

Security inside the venue begins by taking precautionary measures to maintain control outside, including walkways, parking lots and streets near the facility. In the weeks leading up to the ceremony, ensure all cameras and outside lighting are functioning properly, as well as alarms and emergency call stations. To mitigate complications caused by the large influx of people and vehicles on commencement day, enlist additional traffic control officers. These additional staff members will help control traffic flow and can also be on the lookout for suspicious activity or criminal behavior. Providing bus and shuttle services can be beneficial in alleviating congestion and giving event coordinators and security department personnel a degree of control over guest arrival times.

Set Staff Up for Success

The effectiveness of the departments’ efforts relies largely on having an adequate number of officers and guards on site. In addition to supplementary traffic control, extra security officers — uniformed and plain-clothed — should be strategically placed to provide thorough security coverage. Although staffing levels will change throughout the day, remember to schedule security personnel before, during and following the ceremony until all individuals have safely exited the premises. To ensure every position and location is covered, some safety departments use officer scheduling software, which offers staffing and coverage watches. Online scheduling systems also provide an additional channel of communication, so in the event of an emergency, or if additional officers or guards are required at a specific location, managers can immediately and discretely notify individuals or a group of qualified personnel.

Safeguard the Entrance (and Exits)

Bag checks have become commonplace at many events, but this safety measure should not be limited to attendees. Anyone entering the facility should pass through a screening checkpoint and have their belongings visually searched. This includes employees and vendors, as well as graduating students. Establish size guidelines for the bags people can bring in, and restrict large items such as strollers, camera bags and tripods. Not only can these be used to conceal dangerous items, they also pose hazards in the event of an evacuation. Conduct searches near the main entrance in an area that will not impede traffic for those without bags. This entrance is not the only location where security personnel should be positioned; all entry and exit points, including back entrances reserved for staff, should be secured and monitored.

Get the Word Out

Ensuring everyone involved knows what to expect in advance deters problems and reduces frustration on the big day. Distribute a detailed map of the facility, an itinerary and a list of prohibited items to students, faculty, vendors and volunteers before the event. Recipients should be encouraged to share the details with attendees, and the information should be posted in conspicuous areas on the premises as well as on the facility’s website. Include a phone number so people can ask questions in advance or report suspicious behavior.

Whether you are planning a commencement ceremony for 200 graduates or 20,000, the safety of the students, faculty and guests is the number one priority for campus safety departments. With some forethought, and by implementing some precautionary and proactive measures, security and public safety departments can mitigate the possibility of a threat or emergency situation and help ensure a successful, positive graduation experience.

Jon Forknell is the vice president and general manager of Atlas Business Solutions Inc., a software marketing company specializing in employee scheduling software, including ScheduleAnywhere, and other business software solutions. For more information, visit

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