Is Your Safety Plan up to Best Practices?

Campus officials typically want to be sure they are operating their institutions at least on par with other institutions. Going beyond the norm to ensure best practices are followed is a mark of excellence in higher education. Sometimes, higher education officials create success by looking to models from other types of organizations to improve their efficiency and level of service. Currently, one area where institutions of higher education typically lag behind many of their K-12 counterparts, proper safety planning. This is in part because of the increased focus on safety in recent years due to intensive media coverage of major acts of school violence that had in the past been largely ignored by the national press. Another reason for sometimes dramatic improvements in safety planning has been the availability of hundreds of millions of dollars in state and federal school safety grant money to K-12 school systems.

There are a number of areas where K-12 schools have successfully adopted safety practices developed by institutions of higher learning over the years. Those in higher education would fair well to likewise learn from the typically more comprehensive K-12 school safety planning practices, particularly, the new model for all hazards safe school planning.

About two years ago, the United States Department of Education assembled an expert working group consisting of more than thirty of us whom they felt were the top experts in one or more of a number of specific areas of expertise. During an intensive year long research process, the Department of Education worked diligently to define what a comprehensive safe school plan should be. The result is a concise guide titled Practical Information on Crisis Planning: a Guide for Schools and Communities which is available on their website ( This guide established a national model for what a safe school plan should be, and the model is far more advanced than any of those created by the various state school safety centers. Jane’s Information Group, the respected British Defense and security publisher, then selected four experts, three having served on the Department of Education Expert Working Group, to co-author a 450 page guide to provide much more detailed guidance to this process (Jane’s Safe Schools Planning Guide for All Hazards

These landmark publications have created a frenzy of activity in the K-12 school safety field as school systems and private schools work to bring their plans up to speed. A number of university police chiefs and administrators agree that the model is far superior to what their institutions currently have in place and are also working to bring their plans up to best practices. The best way to summarize the core concepts of this plan model would be to describe it as a plan that is comprised of four specific and written sections developed and modified from the emergency management model:

1. Prevention and mitigation section. This section outlines in detail those measures designed to prevent accidents, crimes and other negative safety incidents and to minimize the damage, injury and death in the event an incident cannot be prevented.

2. Preparedness section. This plan is the emergency operations plan that specifically and in considerable detail describes the action steps taken for a wide range of incidents that could occur. This plan consists of a number of job specific supplemental components such as ready reference flip charts tailored to different types of employees based on the actions they would need to take in accordance with their roles during a crisis.

3. Response plan. Designed to build redundancy into the plan, this section ensures the emergency operations plan is properly executed and key actions during the response are properly recorded.

4. Recovery plan. This section deals with two primary concerns, mental health recovery and business continuity following a crisis event.

These plan sections are based upon a formal and thorough risk and vulnerability assessment process which drives the planning process. The plans are developed with the assistance of local emergency response and mental health professionals and is not a purchased“plan in a can” of the type that has repeatedly failed under actual crisis conditions. This type of plan also formally incorporates the incident command system (ICS) into the preparedness and response plans and school officials receive training in ICS. The plan is tested by a progressive exercise program as outlined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

This process is more advanced, comprehensive and reliable than what is in place in the majority of colleges and universities, including most, if not all of the largest institutions. Those institutions that strive to remain on the cutting edge of safety, will need to develop the four specific and written plan sections, train their staff and test their plans with a progressive series of exercises to be in accordance with best practices being established by the few institutions already engaged in this process. If your institution makes safety a priority in deed as well as in word, a safety plan under the new model is a must.

One of the nation’s most credentialed and experienced campus safety experts, Michael Dorn has authored and co-authored twenty books on campus safety topics and serves as the Senior Consultant for Public Safety and Emergency Management for Jane’s consultancy through their offices in nine countries. The author can be reached at

About the Author

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

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