Paper Tigers

Campus safety assessments can reveal how different paper plans and actual practices are at institutions of higher learning. The gaps found and corrected through these processes are often the types of concerns that can recur if a system is not developed to prevent it.

One approach to help create a long-term culture for improved security is to establish systems that continually educate and evaluate the campus community for the concerns of greatest importance identified by assessments. Effectively educating the campus community can do wonders to create positive and lasting cultural change. When these efforts are supplemented by a system of recurring internal assessment systems and processes, campus personnel will remain more focused on critical issues. As one example, our analysts have found significant and easily exploitable gaps in a number of campus entry point metal detection screening stations for graduations, sporting events, dances, or everyday preventive screening.

Identify Gaps in Safety

While we regularly identify such gaps when brought in to do so, it is sometimes not difficult to find them by accident. I once carried my service pistol and two extra magazines through a metal detector screening station at a state university. I was a police chief at the time and was attending a graduation ceremony for one of my officers. Before I could show my credentials to the university police officer operating the checkpoint, he told me to pass on through. The officer told me that my small collapsible umbrella must have set the detector off. Without even trying to do so, I was able to bring a gun and enough ammunition (52 rounds) through a metal detector to wreak havoc at the event had I been an aggressor. Unfortunately, real aggressors regularly find and exploit such serious security system flaws.

Testing the System

Our analysts routinely get replica firearms or operational test pieces (OTPs) into campus facilities with entry-point weapons screening stations as part of our assessments. OTPs are designed to simulate in size, shape, and composition the smallest forbidden object for verifying and testing calibration settings of walk-through detectors, and are made to the specifications of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The common gaps found can usually be corrected.

For example, we are working with several school systems to help them establish processes to test their screening station checkpoints in a manner similar to that used by the Transportation Security Administration to test airport security systems. Using designated, properly instructed personnel who are not recognizable to screeners, regular probes for gaps can be performed. This helps to identify gaps and keeps personnel alert to prevent them. Assessors are given very clear instructions, use OTPs, and carry a permission letter when trying to bypass security measures. Though the process is a bit more involved than space allows us to outline here, the reader should have a pretty good understanding of how it works.

Close the Gaps
Establishing an effective training and awareness strategy combined with a viable internal assessment process can help identify and correct gaps between the paper policies and how they are actually implemented. Just as importantly, the right approach can also keep the gaps from returning.

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

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