Trust Yourself: You Are the Security Expert on Your Campus

Published: April 11, 2013

There has been a lot of talk lately about schools, universities and hospitals working more closely with local law enforcement, organizations, associations and vendors in evaluating campus security needs. This is a wonderful development. For years Campus Safety magazine and many of our contributors have been urging our readers to partner with others in our communities.

That being said, I’d like to remind our readers about the advice that Dr. Benjamin Spock gave to mothers nearly 70 years ago: “Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.”

There are many consultants, associations and vendors willing to provide you with lots of advice on how to keep your campuses safe, and much of it is very good. However, quite a few of them have had little or no experience dealing with campus cultures, let alone protecting K-12, higher ed or healthcare organizations.

Beware of Bad Advice, Hidden Agendas

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For example, the NRA’s National School Shield Task Force that came out with its report on April 2 didn’t have a single current or former educator, administrator, campus police chief, school security director or district emergency manager on its panel. Although the panelists have respectable credentials and made some good recommendations that those of us in the campus public safety community have been recommending for years, not one of the panelists has been employed by a school. To be fair, they did interview some school officials and assessed a few campuses. However, from what I could see, none of them have first-hand experience working on a campus, except in a high-level training capacity.

Related Articles: Should Teachers, Staff Be Allowed to Carry Guns on Campus?

Additionally, one has to question the NRA’s profit and political motives, particularly with regard to their suggestions on firearms. Whether or not we are considering advice from them or anyone else, we must continuously be mindful of their hidden agendas.

Even if their intentions are good, unless an outside expert has a background working in the trenches of K-12, higher ed or healthcare security, they can possibly make recommendations that just aren’t workable.

Using the NRA as an example again, one of their recommendations is to allow selected school personnel to carry firearms. That’s a non-starter for almost all of the campus police, security professionals and administrators I’ve interviewed over the years. It’s also a recipe for tragedy and lawsuits. We’ve already had a training accident in February when a Van (Texas) ISD maintenance staff member was accidentally shot while attending a school district sponsored handgun safety training class.

Related Articles: Sandy Hook Advisory Commission Recommends Myriad School Security Upgrades

Also, does the NRA really believe that custodians, administrators and teachers are going to have the time, money or inclination to receive the type of SWAT-level training needed so they will make good decisions under stress? I think not. And even if they are trained adequately at first because they have been prompted by the Sandy Hook mass shooting, will they maintain that high level of training in the long run so their skills don’t degrade? Again, I think not.

Even if your campus does follow the advice of an expert who has had hospital, university and/or school protection experience, do they have intimate knowledge of your particular campus layout and culture? Possibly not. This is where your knowledge, experience and instincts must be applied to determine the validity of their recommendations. Another thing to consider: if something goes wrong, it will be you on the hook for your expert’s recommendations. Do you really want an organization or consultant who doesn’t fully understand your campus to expose you to so much liability and potential tragedy? Although the advice you receive from outsiders may be good in other environments, only you and those in your organization know what is best for your campus.

New National Center for Campus Public Safety Must Include Campuses

The good news is the Department of Justice has approved and Congress has funded the creation of the National Center for Campus Public Safety. I hope that this new center will have on its governing board campus law enforcement, security, emergency management, teachers/faculty and administrators who have had real experience working on the ground in K-12 and higher education environments. I also trust that the materials they create won’t be tainted with the self-serving agendas and profit motives we sometimes find with associations, consultants and vendors.

Regardless of what the new National Center for Campus Public Safety — or any other organization for that matter — develops, the final decision on security will come down to you and your institution. That’s the way it should be because you are the safety and security expert on your campus. Trust what you know and what you’ve learned in your years in education and healthcare.

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