Mind the (Information) Gap

Published: December 31, 2009

Intelligence sharing among disparate campus departments and outside agencies continues to be essential.

As this issue goes to print, details of the attempted Christmas day bombing of Northwest Airlines flight 253 to Detroit are surfacing. Federal authorities are coming under fire because the suspect’s father told U.S. embassy officials in mid-November that his 23-year-old son might be thinking of becoming a Jihadist. In response to the warning, the alleged attacker’s name was added to the approximately 500,000 other names on the terror watch list but was not placed on the paired down “no fly” list.

Although we now know the suspect’s intentions, until Dec. 25, he didn’t receive much attention from authorities because he had made no credible threats and didn’t have a criminal record. Unfortunately, our nation’s intelligence agencies are constantly receiving tips, many of which are baseless or vague, so they have difficulty culling the real threats from the perceived ones.

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As campus safety professionals, I’m certain you can relate to these challenges. Some of you have encountered individuals who’ve had specific plans to commit Virginia Tech- or Columbine-style attacks, but the only outward indication of their intention was their mild expression of discontent or telling of what appeared to be a tasteless joke. If you had not thwarted their plots, however, inevitably someone would play Monday morning quarterback and accuse you of being inept or worse.

Then there are others of you who have had various individuals exhibit what appeared to be disturbing behavior on your campus, only for it to be discovered that they were just being eccentric. And let’s not forget the numerous occasions when a person is genuinely disgruntled or perhaps showing signs of mental health issues, but he or she doesn’t pose a threat to himself or others.

Arrest persons under these types of circumstances, and you are labeled an insensitive fear monger.

What’s missing in all of these scenarios, as well as in the flight 253 case, is clear, actionable intelligence. The Dec. 25 attempted bombing should remind us all about the importance of appropriate sharing of security information among departments, such as public safety, facilities, residence life, the C-suite, administration, IT, HR, and outside law enforcement and emergency management agencies. The failed Christmas day attack lets us know that these relationships must continue to be fostered and maintained so that campus protection professionals as well as authorities from other agencies can identify real threats.

Additionally, in order for safety and security efforts to be successful, they must receive the appropriate level of resources and administrative support. But even if a campus public safety department has unlimited manpower and money, some plots will still fly under the radar. Fortunately, the right policies and technologies can help bridge the information gap.

Are your campus disaster/emergency plans up to date? Have you conducted an active shooter/bomber drill lately? What about access control and visitor/ID management? Does your campus have a multidisciplinary assessment team ready to evaluate threats? Can your campus lockdown quickly? Are your mass notification systems working properly so campus constituents can get out of harm’s way? Are non-security personnel, such as students, faculty, patients and medical staff, aware of their responsibilities regarding safety and security?

Being diligent about these issues now will go a long way toward giving your organization the data it needs to effectively address threats and respond when an incident actually occurs. Don’t let your campus fall through the information gap.

Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series