Sage Advice from a School Security Veteran

Former Houston ISD security manager Byron Thurmond encourages campuses to see challenges as opportunities.

For 34 years, Byron Thurmond was employed with the Houston Independent School District (HISD), the seventh largest school district in the nation, and for 27 of those years, he was leader of its division of security maintenance.

Initially his department was only responsible for burglar alarms, but as the public’s expectations of campus security increased, so did his responsibilities. By the time he retired from HISD, he had a long track record of specifying, designing, budgeting, procuring and managing more than $80 million of systems that included burglar alarms, fire alarms, access control, video surveillance, intercoms, door hardware, locks and more.

Needless to say, Thurmond knows a lot about campus safety and security, and he is leveraging that know-how in his new position as NAPCO Security Technologies‘ vice president of school and campus safety. In this exclusive interview with Campus Safety magazine, Thurmond discusses the lessons he learned in his 37 years at HISD, as well as strategies that campuses can use to garner greater support for their security projects.

‘Things Don’t Happen Here’ Attitude Poses Challenge
Thurmond believes the biggest challenges facing security pros are campus culture and the tendency for administrators and other stakeholders to not pay attention to security until a crisis or tragedy occurs.

“They might say, ‘Things don’t happen here. Why do we need to lock our doors?'” he says. “People feel safe when nothing happens, and then when something does, safety goes to the top of the agenda, but as soon as things calm down, it goes to the bottom.

“People like convenience more than safety,” he adds. “They don’t want to go through too many locked doors. Parents often say ‘I want to be able to go through any door at my child’s school. I don’t want to go through the front door. Why should I have to walk all the way around?'”

Site Assessments Help to Educate Stakeholders
To counter these tendencies, Thurmond advises campus protection professionals educate internal and external stakeholders about the importance of safety and security.

One tool schools and universities can use to achieve this awareness is NAPCO’s Security Access-Control Vulnerability Index (SAVI), which is a free self-auditing tool that provides an objective, brand agnostic evaluation of any campus’ access control vulnerability.

A school or college security staff member or facilities professional simply surveys the systems that are currently installed, and SAVI automatically calculates a score. Institutions of higher education and K-12 campuses or districts can use the SAVI assessment to create a plan of action that can be suggested to top campus and district administrators.

“It’s a mechanism that you can give to your financial person and say, ‘This is what we scored, this is where we are and this is what we need to do to increase security,” Thurmond says.

In fact, he recommends that campuses frequently perform unscheduled assessments and that those assessments be conducted by different stakeholders, including police, the medical team and educators.

“Ask anyone involved in your school to perform an assessment and have them tell you what they see,” he says. “Once you do these, make them available to administrators quickly. The more often you make them available, the more often administrators will champion funding to reduce those deficiencies.”

Access Control, Video Surveillance Bolster Security
Thurmond believes access control is the most important security improvement a campus can deploy.

“It creates delays that offer our first responders the opportunity to get there to save lives,” he says.

He’s also a big believer is security cameras, which he says not only provide evidence in investigations, but also act as deterrents.

Additionally, Thurmond believes campuses should consider adopting solutions that cost little or nothing, such as implementing a policy that all classroom doors are locked and closed at all times.

Budgets are always a concern for campus security departments, so Thurmond advises schools and universities to carefully prioritize their projects and be realistic. He recommends hardening a campus’ exterior first and the interior later, if possible.

“I think sometimes when we try to do the entire building, we wind up doing nothing,” he adds.

The Money Is There If You Know Where to Look
The budget can be a stumbling block for many schools and colleges, but Thurmond urges campus protection pros to not let limited funding discourage them.

“It really frustrates me when I hear, ‘We have no funding,'” he says. “I see challenges as opportunities. If you have a maintenance account, then there is an opportunity to retrofit. If you can repair it, you can replace it. Maybe we can’t do the entire building, but we can do the front door.”

It also may cost the same amount – or even less over the long haul – to replace rather than repair some equipment. A good assessment as well as partnering with a well-qualified security vendor will help campus security professionals determine which path is the most economical and provides the best protection.

Learn more about SAVI.

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