College Campus Shooting Prevention, Response, and Mitigation Resources

The following practices should help reduce chances of a foreseeable tragedy happening on your campus, including an active shooter attack.

College Campus Shooting Prevention, Response, and Mitigation Resources

Photo via Adobe, by Drobot Dean

If you are a college security professional, the February 13 mass shooting at Michigan State University (MSU) that killed three students and seriously injured five others has probably prompted many of you to review your campus security, public safety, and emergency management programs, policies, and systems.

The following practices are generally recommended to help prevent or at least mitigate active assailant attacks, as well as other campus emergencies.

It should be noted, however, that no campus security, public safety, or emergency management program is infallible. There are people, places, and things in our communities that a campus can’t control, not to mention state and federal laws that may hinder our ability to protect our institutions of higher education. That said, the following practices should help you decrease your organization’s chances of a foreseeable tragedy happening on your campus, including an active shooter attack.

Conduct a Campus Security Site Assessment

It’s wise to regularly and frequently assess your campus so you can identify your institution’s security vulnerabilities. Unfortunately, only one in four institutions of higher education that completed our 2022 Campus Safety Access Control and Lockdown Survey said they conduct monthly or quarterly assessments. Nearly two in five said they either don’t know how often their campuses conduct security assessments or never conduct these types of reviews.

Regularly conducting site assessments can help you identify a whole host of issues beyond just security. For example, regular reviews can identify overgrown trees or bushes that are blocking the views of cameras, broken walkways that are trip hazards, locks that don’t work, lights that don’t work or won’t shut off, and much, much more.

Get the Right Kind of Help

If your campus is going to install new technology or implement new programs and procedures, it’s important to hire qualified and experienced security contractors, systems integrators, and/or consultants who understand your type of campus and the technology you want installed. They must also understand and follow all codes and regulations when recommending or installing any new or upgraded security, public safety, and/or life safety systems and equipment.

Whoever is hired should specialize in the type of solution being installed or implemented. For example, if you are upgrading your access control system and want it to integrate with the hundreds of cameras on your campus, hire a systems integrator with a lot of experience and expertise in access control, video surveillance, and system’s interoperability. The contractor should also have a good understanding of IT. It’s even better if they have lots of experience working on a college campus.

Additionally, just because a contractor is well-qualified in one field doesn’t mean they understand other fields that might be related but are still quite different. For example, a lock and door hardware expert might not know much about window security. If your campus wants to install glass window/door security film, hire a contractor who has a lot of experience and knowledge about that type of product.

It’s important to note that very often local law enforcement or consultants with only a law enforcement background don’t have the technical expertise required for these types of technical tasks. Yes, law enforcement has a lot of knowledge, but they too have their limitations.

Improve Access Control

Although most colleges and universities are open — meaning the general public can walk on to or even drive through campus — there probably are at least some buildings on your campus that can limit access to unauthorized individuals. Those include laboratories containing dangerous or sensitive materials, offices, and other locations with expensive equipment, such as music rooms. Even buildings that are open most of the day can probably limit the times when they are accessible to the general public, such as only being open when classes are being held but not late at night.

There’s also the possibility of bolstering access control inside campus buildings that are open most of the time. For example, it’s often advisable to install locks on classroom doors that lock from the inside. Be sure to follow all applicable codes and laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) codes, etc.

Additionally, consider installing window security film in appropriate areas, being careful not to hinder building evacuation during emergencies.

Maintain or Upgrade Your Security Cameras

Most college campuses have at least some type of video surveillance system installed. In fact, according to the 2022 Campus Safety Video Surveillance Survey, 93% of campuses already have security cameras.

But not all video surveillance systems are created equal. Can local law enforcement tap into your security cameras when there is an incident? How clear are the images being produced? Can those images be used to investigate an incident or even track down a fleeing suspect? Are your cameras even working?

If you answer “no” to any of these questions, it’s time to upgrade your video surveillance system(s) or at the very least, do some in-depth maintenance of what you already have.

Additionally, whatever security technology that’s implemented should work hand-in-hand with Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) concepts.

Confirm Your Emergency Notification Systems Have Adequate Coverage

The Clery Act requires colleges to send out emergency notifications when there is a dangerous situation or emergency, so most college campuses have a least some type of mass notification system in place. Unfortunately, only 64% of respondents to the 2022 Campus Safety Emergency Notification Survey said they use two or more emergency notification systems. That’s an eight-percentage point drop from 2020 and 16-percentage point drop from 2019.

The drop in campuses with multiple systems is concerning because it opens up the institutions with only one system to experiencing a single point of failure. Additionally, no one system can reach everyone.

So, if your campus only has one emergency notification system installed, it needs to invest in at least one more, and preferably several more. Additionally, those systems need to be tested regularly and integrated with each other.

Other Promising Practices that Bolster Campus Safety Include:

  • Deploy metal detectors at sporting events, concerts, political speeches, etc.
  • Train students, faculty, staff, and clinicians how to properly identify and respond to active shooters and other campus emergencies.
  • Regularly conduct drills and exercises that address a wide variety of hazards and incidents, not just active shooters.
  • When appropriate, have faculty and staff members carry panic buttons.
  • Create a multi-disciplinary threat assessment and threat management team.
  • Partner with local first responders so they can effectively and quickly respond to a campus emergency. This should happen long before an incident happens.
  • Hire campus police or security officers, and provide them with appropriate training.
  • Train faculty, staff, administrators, and public safety officers on verbal de-escalation techniques.
  • Conduct background checks on all faculty, staff, volunteers, administrators, and vendors.
  • Have on staff enough campus psychologists, social workers, and counselors so individuals exhibiting concerning behavior get the help they need before they resort to violence against themselves, against others, or both.
  • Develop emergency plans and keep them current.
  • Develop and maintain relationships with students, faculty, staff, clinicians, nurses, and others in the community so they feel comfortable reporting the concerning behavior of others.
  • Adopt anonymous tip phone lines and text messaging services.
  • After an incident, provide long-term mental health services to students, staff members, and faculty.
  • Develop policies and procedures to support all of the solutions you’ve adopted and then regularly train and re-train all campus personnel on how to implement and follow them.

This list is in no way complete or perfect. Campus Safety is constantly looking for new and better ways to make campuses safer. That said, it’s a good start. It also serves as an important reminder to college campus security veterans.

Here are some other resources that might be helpful:

Threat Assessment/Management

Weapons Detection

Student, Staff Member, Police Officer Mental Health

Access Control


If you appreciated this article and want to receive more valuable industry content like this, click here to sign up for our FREE digital newsletters!

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.

Leading in Turbulent Times: Effective Campus Public Safety Leadership for the 21st Century

This new webcast will discuss how campus public safety leaders can effectively incorporate Clery Act, Title IX, customer service, “helicopter” parents, emergency notification, town-gown relationships, brand management, Greek Life, student recruitment, faculty, and more into their roles and develop the necessary skills to successfully lead their departments. Register today to attend this free webcast!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get Our Newsletters
Campus Safety HQ