Safety & Security (Protecting Campus Resources)

Mind the Gap

Visitors to London are familiar with the iconic phrase “mind the gap.” This caution is repeated at every stop on “the Tube,” London’s famous subway system. Passengers are advised to pay particular attention to the gap between the platform and the exit doorway of the train. Stepping into this gap can prove disastrous. Similarly, a failure to notice the gap between perceived campus security measures and actual practices could also provide an entrance to disaster.

Gaps in Safety Can Kill

During post-incident reviews for clients, we often identify significant gaps between established procedures and actual practices. For example, in a recent post-incident evaluation of an active shooter incident, 12 of our analysts identified a number of differences between the written student threat evaluation and management procedures and what was actually done by the school’s threat evaluation team. After the assessment was conducted, the student opened fire with a shotgun and killed another student. Fortunately, the reactions of staff and students to the attack were superb and the aggressor was unable to kill any other victims. His actions, combined with statements in his diary, indicated that he had planned to kill as many people as he could. The lockdown approach had been thoroughly tested and worked to prevent the killer from harming more victims.

Identify and Correct Gaps

This type of situation is just one example of how dangerous unidentified gaps in campus security can be. Campus leaders should continually seek to identify and correct gaps between what people assume is in place in relation to actual practice. Fortunately, there are ways to actively seek out and identify campus security gaps. Campus security assessments performed by qualified external campus security experts can help identify gaps missed by internal reviews. There are also a variety of internal approaches to help identify and correct these types of opportunities for improvement before someone gets hurt.

In the case mentioned above, the campus security director made it a practice to approach individual employees, hypothesize a specific scenario and ask them to react as they would if they were experiencing the incident. This approach not only allowed him to see if people knew what to do in an emergency, but it also clearly demonstrated to employees that they were empowered to implement life-saving actions on their own.

Our nonprofit center has developed a series of audio crisis scenarios that can be downloaded to a tablet or mobile phone. This allows campus safety officials to approach individual employees, play a scenario for them and ask them how they would react. These scenarios can be downloaded at no cost by visiting www.safehavensinternational.org, clicking on the red book cover on the homepage and scrolling down to the Chapter 8 resources. These scenarios offer an easy but powerful approach to identify gaps between what plans direct employees to do and what they are actually likely to do in an emergency.

Create a Culture of Safety

Campus security technologies, hardware, policies, practices and procedures can help reduce the risk that security incidents will occur. However, these approaches can break down if staff and, in some cases, students do not understand the importance of properly implementing or supporting them. Campus safety personnel frequently describe challenges they face in getting other campus employees to follow proper security practices. Interesting, actionable and factually accurate staff development efforts and effective communications can help to address these concerns. Campus leaders must also demonstrate that security is a real priority. One common denominator of safer campuses is strong, clear and consistent leadership that demonstrates campus security is a priority.

Perfection Not Required

Campus officials may be reluctant to implement some security measures because they are not 100 percent reliable. While approaches that do not provide a viable return on the time, energy and/or funding required to implement may not be a good idea, it can be a mistake not to use reasonable steps to enhance security just because they are not foolproof.

Many safety incidents are likely prevented by the repeated warnings to “mind the gap.” While no campus safety measures are foolproof, reducing the gap between perceived and actual levels of school security can prevent tragedy. Taking care to mind the gap can help avert tragedy on campus.

This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

Michael Dorn serves as the executive director for Safe Havens International, Inc., an IRS-approved, nonprofit safety center. He has authored and co-authored more than 20 books on campus safety. He can be reached through the Safe Havens website at www.safehavensinternational.org.

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