Who Is on Your Safety Team?

I just finished a full day of presentations for 500 support employees for a public school district in Minnesota. We had a keynote session for all of the attendees, followed by a series of breakout sessions based on different job classifications. In the sessions for food service personnel, school bus drivers, and custodians, we were able to hone in on safety, security, and emergency preparedness information that is specific to the roles of each group.

We did a great deal of this type of training in the public school system I once worked in, and it was extremely effective. I can recall numerous situations where this type of role-specific training paid huge dividends. For example, reports from school bus drivers led to the arrests of several sexual predators near our schools as well as to the arrest of a major drug dealer (and the search of his residence with a search warrant obtained pursuant to his arrest). This last arrest ended up costing the dealer $100,000 because he failed to show up for a trial in Florida and lost the cash bond he had posted there. As he regularly sexually molested school-aged children, infected a number of them with HIV/AIDS, and moves significant quantities of cocaine to youth in our community, these inconveniences put a pretty serious dent in his operation.

Applicable to Higher Education
After I left the sessions for the public school district in Minnesota and was considering topics for my column in this issue of College Planning & Management, the topic of working to include and empower support personnel in campus safety, security, and emergency preparedness efforts seemed like an excellent subject for higher education personnel as well. While there are certain types of staff development topics that should be provided to all campus employees, it can be extremely effective to tailor training efforts to specific job classifications as is commonly done in K–12 school districts. Many of our K–12 clients utilize role-specific live, video, and/or web courses for custodians, secretaries, food service personnel, mental health personnel, bus drivers, and other support employees. Though I am familiar with some institutions of higher learning that use a similar approach, from the discussions I have had with officials from institutions of higher learning from around the nation, it does not seem to be as prevalent.

Like role-specific emergency preparedness plan components, drills, and exercises, role-specific training sessions can go a long way towards improving compliance with policies and procedures while also building support for safety initiatives. This approach also tends to significantly increase awareness among employees and students. Many people appreciate it when staff development efforts are relevant to what they do each day as employees or students. Role-specific training also tends to demonstrate the organization’s commitment to the safety of the people the training is focused on.

Seeing the Results
These approaches can sometimes pay surprising dividends. When working with a client in Illinois, I was cautioned by the client that representatives of the various unions would have a voice in approving what types of training could be required for their members. The project started with an overview training session and work session where the client’s plan to develop role-specific emergency charts for various job classifications combined with live training, custom training videos, and web courses, which were also often geared to specific employees, such as secretaries. The representative from the secretaries’ union became a strong supporter of the initiative. He told our client that to his knowledge, none of his members had been provided with role-specific training sessions, let alone issued role-specific emergency plan components. Two other union representatives voiced somewhat similar support for the initiative. Though this may not be a typical response, it serves as one example of how many people react favorably when campus organizations demonstrate that they understand that support personnel should not be left out of safety efforts.

Building and maintaining a true team approach to effective campus safety, security, and emergency preparedness strategies takes hard work, and can be extremely challenging. At the same time, the effectiveness of these types of efforts can make or break a campus safety program. Developing and delivering helpful, practical, and meaningful staff development initiatives for various categories of campus employees can be an excellent way to help bring safety to the forefront on campus, and to keep it there. 

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.

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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