Campus Safety Consultants: Friend or Foe?
- By Michael S. Dorn
- November 1st, 2003
Campus officials are continually on the lookout for new ways to enhance safety. Concerns of civil liability; the institution's reputation; and most importantly, a desire to properly protect students, staff and visitors compel them to provide a safe and secure learning environment. There are some exceptionally skilled consultants who are willing and eager to assist in creating safer campuses. Unfortunately, there are also some unqualified individuals who are exploiting the concerns of campus officials for financial gain. A little careful research can help determine which consultants to turn to for advice you can depend on.
In one instance, a consultant was paid more than $100,000 to develop campus emergency operations plans that turned out to be nothing more than a generic plan with the name of the client organization inserted. Other consultants will accept almost any type of work - whether they are qualified to perform the services correctly or not. Be sure that the consultant you select has the same expertise that you need for your specific concerns. For example, when hiring a consultant to revise a campus emergency operations plan, look for an expert with a solid background in the field of emergency management. If your primary issues are hazardous materials or mold-related issues, it is critical that you find someone with experience in these particular areas.
Look for "red flags."
1. Money is the main object. If a consultant is continually trying to sell you his services and seems more focused on billable hours than on your needs, caution is advisable. Since 9/11, most sharp campus safety consultants have more work than they can handle. While there is nothing wrong with a consultant making you aware of the services that may be of benefit to you, some consultants have been known to be very focused on pushing every possible service on their clients. A good sign is the consultant who works with clients to help them internalize their own safety capabilities. One example is when consultants are willing to help train a team of your staff members and local public safety officials to do their own annual site surveys. This approach can save the institution a great deal of money through time by combining the consultant's expertise with that offered by your own staff.
2. You hear what you want to hear, not what you need to hear. Watch out for the "yes man" who is more interested in stroking your ego than in helping you avert a major incident. If this goes unnoticed, it could damage your career, result in needless human suffering and mean financial losses to the institution.
3. Consultants who are new to the field. You probably do not want to serve as a guinea pig for someone who is trying to break into the field. One recent phenomenon is that some campus safety consultants are billing themselves as experts in antiterrorism when they have no real expertise in the field. There are very few individuals who truly have expertise in campus safety as well as in the field of antiterrorism. If a consultant professes to have this level of expertise, be sure to ask for the specific experience, training and/or education to back up this assertion. Another relevant point here is the importance of the difference in terrorism expertise. Generally, an antiterrorism expert is qualified to provide assistance in the prevention of and emergency preparedness for terrorism, while a counterterrorism expert has a proficiency in prevention of terrorism through intelligence gathering, tactical law enforcement or military response to an act of terrorism. So an antiterrorism expert might be more qualified to help select security equipment and procedures to make your campus a less vulnerable target and to aid in the development of emergency operations plans, while a counter-terrorism expert would be more qualified to train a university police department on tactical responses to an incident.
4. Imposters. The consultant who does not have specific credentials or is reluctant to provide reasonable documentation of credentials can be another concern. Beware of vague language such as reference to a graduate degree with no mention of a particular institution or very general references to past work experience. Learning that a consultant has falsified major credentials during
civil litigation following an incident could result in significant civil liability and embarrassment for your organization. If the credentials are real, then the consultant should have nothing to hide.
With basic research and reference checks, you can receive valuable assistance. A good campus safety consultant is more than worth the investment.
Michael S. Dorn is a state government antiterrorism specialist with 24 years of full-time campus safety experience. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael S. Dorn has helped conduct security assessments for more than 6,000 K-12 schools, keynotes conferences internationally and has published 27 books including Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters. He can be reached at www.safehavensinternational.org.