Are Your Security Measures Just for Show?

In light of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, schools, universities and hospitals can’t afford to have security that looks good but doesn’t actually provide protection.

I recently visited China where I toured a video surveillance equipment manufacturer’s headquarters (you can read my blog about the visit, titled Hikvision Targets U.S. Video Surveillance Market, here). Although the tour was very impressive, I couldn’t help but admire an aspect of China that probably wasn’t intended by my hosts: the country’s airport security bag searches and metal detection procedures. In my domestic flight from Hangzhou to Shenzhen, I got the opportunity to experience it first-hand.

The airport had walk-through metal detectors and wands, but unlike most U.S. airports, no body scanners. I separated my carry-on liquids in a plastic bag, as well as my electronics and sent all of my belongings and bags through the scanners.

RELATED: Achieving Metal Detection Optimization

After my carry-on luggage was scanned, a woman thoroughly (and I mean thoroughly) inspected everything. She actually opened my carry-on liquids and smelled them… something that in my many years of travel has only happened to me once in America. Additionally, the metal detectors found some small scissors that I almost always carry with me when I travel; again something TSA never finds when I go through U.S. airport security.

Lest you think that I was singled out because I’m an American, everyone in line was subjected to the same scrutiny.

Did I mind this close inspection? Absolutely not. I felt safer knowing that Chinese airport security personnel – at least in this particular instance – were taking their jobs very seriously. Quite a comforting thought in light of October’s downing of a Russian airplane by a bomb that ISIS claims was hidden in a soda can.

I couldn’t help but compare my experience in the Hangzhou airport to the many airport screenings I have gone through in the United States, where TSA recently failed to stop 95 percent of the weapons that inspectors attempted to sneak through security.

The screening process at U.S. airports seems to be more for show than actual protection. The same can be said of other events I’ve attended, including sporting events and concerts.

Now more than ever with the terrorist attacks that occurred in Paris Nov. 13 and in San Bernardino, Calif., Dec. 2,  campuses must ensure that their security screening measures actually work.

RELATED: FBI: San Bernardino Shooter Abandoned Attack on Community College

It’s been my experience in covering campus security and law enforcement for more than 10 years now that when there are security lapses, the problem usually isn’t with the equipment. It lies in the training of the personnel operating the technology and the policies they are supposed to follow. Additionally, often a campus doesn’t have enough staff to properly operate and monitor all of the equipment.

By contrast, the Hangzhou airport security personnel who searched my belongings were well trained, and there were enough of them to do the job correctly, despite the fact that they didn’t use the latest body scanning technology.

In light of the recent terrorist events in Paris and San Bernardino, schools, universities and hospitals can’t afford to have security that looks good but doesn’t actually accomplish anything. Now is the time for campus protection professionals to review all of the security measures they have in place.

Are your campus public safety officers and non-security staff properly trained? Are your policies up-to-date? What about your emergency response plans? How about technology and maintenance? Can your doors lock properly? Are your security cameras working? What about your fire alarm and emergency notification systems? Has your campus implemented Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) concepts?

If you have challenges with these and other safety-related issues, a good place to start to look for help is Campus Safety Magazine’s annual Yearbook, which can be found here. The vendors listed can help you make the appropriate updates so your campus will be optimally prepared.

Although the appearance of preparedness can act as a deterrent to a certain extent, actually having the right security measures and people in place will prove that your efforts are for more than just show during a real emergency.

About the Author

Robin Hattersley Gray
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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.

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