Editor's Desk: Despite Panic by Others, a Measured Approach Works Best

It seems like every industry has a moment in time when the world changes. For higher education campuses, that moment occurred April 16, 2007 when a deranged student shot and killed 32 students and faculty members at Virginia Tech.

Since then, most campus officials — particularly those at colleges and universities — have had to take a good long look at the safety and security measures deployed at their institutions. If there is anything positive we can take away from last year’s tragedy, it’s that for the most part, campus protection is being taken much more seriously, both by campuses and the public in general. (For complete coverage of how educational institutions have revised their approaches to safety and security, please read “Virginia Tech 1 Year Later: How Campuses Have Responded,” which features results from the CS Post Virginia Tech Study.)

Considering we seem to be hearing a lot more about school shootings lately, this is a step in the right direction. Some of the incidents involving guns that have occurred at schools and universities since April of last year include Delaware State University, Sept. 21; SuccessTech Academy (Ohio), Oct. 10; Notre Dame Elementary School (Ohio), Feb. 7; Louisiana Technical College, Feb. 8; Mitchell High School (Tenn.), Feb. 11; E.O. Green School (Calif.), Feb. 12; Northern Illinois University, Feb. 14; and Davidson High School (Ala.).

Although these tragedies are very disturbing, what I find particularly troubling is the way some “campus safety experts” or others with their own agendas word their comments to the press to tug at the heart strings of Americans. Their statements may lead the public to overreact, despite there being evidence that campuses are one of the safest places for students of any age.

I mention my concerns because knee-jerk responses that incorporate poorly planned solutions are as dangerous as the “It can’t happen here mentality” that was so prevalent on campuses before Virginia Tech. The bigger the overreaction (and mistakes resulting from it), the bigger the pendulum swing will be away from the initial overreaction. I would hate for the progress our industry has recently made in protecting educational institutions to be swept away by a backlash.

Can another Virginia Tech (or worse) occur in America? Yes, but statistically speaking, tragedies like the one that occurred in April 2007 don’t happen very often. Let’s not forget about other risks that don’t usually make the headlines: severe weather, drug and alcohol use, sexual assaults, crowd control, bullying, theft and more.

Fortunately, many of the solutions designed to address active shooters can be repurposed to tackle these more common, yet potentially lethal, threats.

Mass notification solutions can be deployed not only when there is an active shooter, but also when there is a tornado warning or when the main entrance to campus is closed due to a water main break. The sharing of information regarding at-risk individuals can help communities identify persons who might bring a gun to campus and use it against others, as well as strengthen the relationships needed to develop a culture of safety on campus.

Security cameras, which can be used to develop better situational awareness during an attack by a gunman, can be deployed as an investigative tool in theft cases to identify suspects. The emergency plans recently revised to address active shooter scenarios might also be put into action in the aftermath of an earthquake or chemical leak at a nearby plant. The list goes on …

I applaud those campuses that have improved their safety and security. Many of those upgrades were prompted by the public and media’s outcries after the Virginia Tech tragedy. That said, I do hope all of us take a measured approach to the solutions we adopt so that the campus safety community’s credibility is strengthened. If we aren’t smart, not only will our reputations be damaged, campus protection could be compromised.

Robin Hattersley Gray is executive editor of Campus Safety. She can be reached at robin.gray@bobit.com.

To subscribe to the unabridged print version of Campus Safety magazine, click here.

If you appreciated this article and want to receive more valuable industry content like this, click here to sign up for our FREE digital newsletters!

About the Author

robin hattersley headshot

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.

Leading in Turbulent Times: Effective Campus Public Safety Leadership for the 21st Century

This new webcast will discuss how campus public safety leaders can effectively incorporate Clery Act, Title IX, customer service, “helicopter” parents, emergency notification, town-gown relationships, brand management, Greek Life, student recruitment, faculty, and more into their roles and develop the necessary skills to successfully lead their departments. Register today to attend this free webcast!

Get Our Newsletters
Campus Safety Conference promo