How to Choose the Right Public Safety and Security Technology
A systematic approach will help to ensure your organization makes the right public safety and security technology purchasing decisions.
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Imagine this scenario: you are head of campus security and you are sitting in a meeting with the heads of IT and facilities, the school’s vice president of finance and administration, and the college president.
The purpose of your meeting is to consider the purchase of equipment to upgrade safety and security technologies.
There are three options on the table: a new video surveillance system, an electronic key/access control system and panic alarms for all classrooms and offices. Unfortunately, your budget is not sufficiently robust to select all three, so you need to evaluate what to buy.
Further complicating the problem is that police and security want the camera system, facilities is supporting the access control system and IT advocates the panic buttons. Each attendee can make a convincing argument in support of his or her desired option.
Often, in the Byzantine world of procurement, all things being equal, the decision will reflect the personalities of the respective policy options, their alliances and their political and negotiation skills.
As a result, the decision made may reflect the desires of the most capable and powerful advocate; not necessarily what’s demonstrably best for the school. This brief article provides an empirically verifiable evaluative framework to choose between equally attractive yet competing technologies. It also can be useful to vendors to suggest how to present their wares to make them most attractive to potential customers.
Determine Your Organization’s Goals
So, what are some of the security goals of any campus?
Seven are listed below, in no particular order, recognizing there may be more (such as creating a sense of community on campus or enhancing staff professionalism), and their priorities may change over time with dynamic trends, policies and experiences:
- Create and maintain a safe and secure environment (“Environment” in Tables 1-4)
- Enhance the school’s reputation for safety (“Reputation”)
- Be prepared to respond to and recover from crises (“Response”)
- Avoid liability (“Liability”)
- Enhance situational awareness on campus to deter threatening activities (“Awareness”)
- Enhance the campus community members’ perception of safety (“Perception”)
- Deter/respond to concerning behaviors (“Behaviors”)
Identify Your Resources
All inputs needed to achieve a safe, secure and effective campus can be grouped into one of the following five categories: personnel, procedures, facilities, equipment and communications (and their integrating structure).
For the sake of brevity, personnel and procedural factors will not be addressed further in this article, although they are integral to the operational success of whatever technologies are acquired and therefore must play a critical role in their assessment.
To illustrate this analytical methodology, let’s consider potential technologies our campus might acquire. These items include but aren’t limited to:
- Emergency operations center
- Dispatch center
- Hardened and secure evacuation locations
- Hardened and distributed security office(s)
- First aid stations
- Remote security locations (indoors and outdoors, such as assembly areas)
- Opaque film to cover windows in classes, offices, etc.
- Electronic locking/access control systems for classrooms and offices
- Gun-shot recognition system
- Automatic External Defibrillators (AEDs)
- Tactical Emergency Casualty Care (TECC) kits
- Bollards to block entrances
- Speed bumps
- Security cameras
- Alert system
- Mobile safety app
- Hand-held radios for parking, facilities, wardens and administrators in addition to radios for police and security
- Alarm systems (internal)
- Panic buttons
- AV broadcast systems
- External emergency phones
Two key questions to be considered by acquisition authorities are: which inputs affect the institution’s goals (i.e., desired outputs); and what are the status and capability of those assets (assuming they are present on campus)?
Tables 1-3 above show which inputs affect which outputs of a hypothetical campus. Those that do are color-coded green, yellow or red, depending on whether they are fully (green), partially (yellow) or not mission-capable (red).
Assets receive the following (judgmental) point scores: 5 — highly mission capable; 4 — mission capable; 3 — almost mission capable; 2 — partially mission capable; 1 — available asset but not mission capable; 0 — not present on campus.
National ratings are applied to the tables. These tables also show how remote security/police stations, a camera system, a mobile safety app and panic buttons each affect all seven of the identified institutional goals; and how a dispatch center, alert system and an AV system and loudspeakers each affect six of the seven goals.
The following assets each affect five goals: hardened security/police office, hardened evacuation centers and TECC units located in classes. Generators have the lowest impact according to the assessment of this particular campus.
For the sake of illustration, the inputs at our mythical institution are rated with regards to their mission capability as follows. This is just an example; your evaluations of these technologies could be different:
Fully mission capable
(Green, and receiving 4 – 5 points based on their full capability status as low  or high ):
- Dispatch center (5 points)
- Hardened evacuation centers (4)
- Opaque film over windows and glass (4)
- AEDs (5)
- Generators (5)
- Camera surveillance system (4)
- Alert system (5)
- Hand-held radios for police and wardens (5)
- Alarm systems (5)
- Panic buttons (5)
Partially mission capable
(Yellow, and receiving 2 – 3 points based on their low or high partial capability status):
- Hardened police/security main office (2 points)
- First aid stations (2)
- Electronic locking systems (3)
- Bollards (3)
- AV broadcast system (2)
- External loudspeakers (3)
- External emergency phones (2)
Not mission capable
(Red and receiving 0-1 points depending on needing but not having a capability  or having an inadequate capability ):
- Emergency operations center (1)
- Remote security stations, distributed throughout campuses (0)
- Gun-shot recognition system (0)
- Tactical Emergency Casualty Care (TECC) kits for classrooms (1)
- Mobile safety app for each member of the college community (0)
By counting the numbers in each column (i.e., each goal), we can identify how many inputs affect that given goal. If each affecting input were in perfect condition (i.e., receiving a score of 5), the total maximum score for that goal would be 5 multiplied (x) by the number of affecting inputs.
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Campus Safety magazine is another great resource for public safety, security and emergency management professionals. It covers all aspects of campus safety, including access control, video surveillance, mass notification and security staff practices. Whether you work in K-12, higher ed, a hospital or corporation, Campus Safety magazine is here to help you do your job better!