Safety & Security (Protecting Campus Resources)
Mind the Gap
- By Michael Dorn
- May 1st, 2016
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.
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.