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Business Officer Magazine

Safety From All Angles

A NACUBO-led national initiative assembles a broad coalition to assess and address campus security from all perspectives.

By Karla Hignite

In February of this year, NACUBO launched the National Campus Safety and Security Project in partnership with seven other higher education associations. These partners broadly represent the various types of institutions and offices on campus concerned with campus security (see sidebar, “Project Partners”).

The all-hands approach of this major initiative is designed to ensure that colleges and universities are doing all they can to protect the safety of campus occupants; prevent potential hazards; and mitigate, respond to, and recover from all forms of disaster, says John Walda, NACUBO president and CEO. “The need for an all-campus approach to safety and security issues has become more obvious and is not only desirable but also necessary for producing the best solutions,” says Walda.

Broad representation also ensures that issues of safety and security are viewed from all angles so that critical collaboration is achieved in developing best practices and strategies, says James A. Hyatt, a long-time NACUBO member who serves as project director and principal investigator. Hyatt has held key business officer roles at University of Maryland–College Park, University of California–Berkeley, and most recently at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia, where he spent last summer leading a study examining security options in the aftermath of the April 2007 shootings there. “What strikes me is that while each particular emergency or threat may be different, what we must do as institutions to prepare is very similar in terms of getting information out to campus occupants and having resources in place to respond immediately,” says Hyatt.

By modeling a multidisciplinary, multiple-perspective approach to threat assessment, the project’s partners want this message to resonate as well: Emergency planning and preparedness must involve the entire community, not only those offices typically charged with responding to an emergency, says Hyatt. “Where threats are assessed only in terms of network capacity or facilities or business continuity, opportunities are missed to make critical connections and to develop comprehensive, proactive solutions.”

All the key functions on campus that need to be involved in planning and response efforts fit, at least loosely, under the business side of higher education—whether that is campus security, facilities management, communication, or transportation, adds Walda. “This project is designed to bring together all the key players to think through the issues and provide assessment tools and guidance to ensure that nothing gets lost in the gaps.”

Project Deliverables

During the next year, the project team will conduct research and collect information through a variety of vehicles, with the ultimate goal of delivering tools and materials to assist institutions with developing comprehensive emergency management plans that:

  • Strengthen the safety and security of cyber, human, and physical assets on their campuses;
  • Encompass all possible hazards through strategies for prevention and mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery;
  • Facilitate interactions among academic, student service, and administrative areas;
  • Incorporate measures to address specific needs of students, faculty, and staff; and
  • Recognize the need to balance campus safety and security concerns within an environment of openness and freedom of expression, essential characteristics of the higher education community.

Key deliverables from the project will include the following:

Literature review. The project team will review college and university internal reports and state- and federally commissioned studies, along with other materials of interest, to assess the current state of emergency preparedness within higher education institutions.

National survey on campus security. After reviewing existing studies and research, the project’s first major undertaking will be to conduct a comprehensive survey of a cross-section of U.S. colleges and universities to further assess the state of campus safety and security and emergency preparedness plans. The survey instrument will include questions that encompass the full range of threats and an institution’s ability to respond, including interactions between academic and student affairs as well as approaches to fiscal, communication, and information systems infrastructures.

Campus security self-assessment. The project team will develop a self-assessment instrument for evaluating campus readiness to deal with key safety and security threats. This tool will allow all higher education institutions, regardless of size, to identify strengths and weaknesses of current security systems and processes in the areas of public safety, physical security, cyber security, emergency preparedness, threat assessment, and vulnerability remediation. This comprehensive assessment of the wide-ranging risks common to all institutions will be pilot-tested as part of the site-visit phase of the project.

Site visits. The project team will also conduct multidisciplinary focus groups and do on-site research by visiting a diverse set of campuses—urban and rural, large and small, public and independent. Site teams will bring perspectives from a variety of areas including campus police and public safety, legal affairs, student services, academic affairs, information technology, and university relations. These visits will provide a snapshot in terms of how each type of institution prepares and responds to safety and security threats, which may help institutions of similar type get a better sense of how to assess their own state of readiness.

National symposium on campus security efforts. To share best practices and knowledge gathered from this project, a national symposium (tentatively slated for later this year) will bring together campus representatives and experts in the areas of campus safety and security, homeland security, emergency communications, legal affairs, student counseling and health services, academic affairs, campus operations, and other relevant areas. In addition to sharing preliminary results from the national survey and site visits, the symposium will offer sessions on legal issues surrounding campus security and emergency preparedness; the interface among academics, student services, and law enforcement; and issues pertaining to information technology, communication systems, and physical infrastructure.

In addition, NACUBO and its partners will join together to develop articles, webcasts, national and regional conference presentations, and other professional development activities and tools. The project will culminate in a report that highlights the study results and provides guidance to colleges and universities on such topics as security planning, threat assessment, vulnerability remediation, crisis intervention, and suggested approaches for security training and orientation for students, faculty, and staff. The final product will also include a refined self-assessment tool that all institutions can use.

“With this full range of deliverables, we want our members and the entire higher education community to know they don’t have to reinvent this process but can use these tools as a template for their own assessment and development of emergency response plans,” says Walda.

Keeping Security Top of Mind

Regardless of the type or size of an institution, ongoing education and preparation of all campus constituents is crucial for ensuring that a response is effective once people hear the message, says Hyatt. That’s especially true when one quarter of an institution’s student population turns over each year.

Commitment from the top is also critical for conveying the importance of specific measures that campus leadership take to prevent or mitigate disaster, says Hyatt. He admits this can be particularly challenging within the higher education arena, which prizes an environment of openness and freedom of expression. “Campus occupants, especially students, must be informed and allowed to weigh in with regard to proposed safety measures.” For instance, says Hyatt, the use of surveillance cameras or the ability to shut a building remotely as a way to secure an individual facility or sections within it may be highly valued by campus security officers. However, students might not be as keen about these ideas until they understand how the overall system would work, including how occupants could exit a room or building at their discretion.

The right answer regarding the appropriate balance between campus openness and safety and security will differ from campus to campus, notes Walda. Specific concerns and approaches will also vary based on regional differences and student populations—whether a largely residential versus a commuter campus, or an urban versus a rural setting. “Every institution must have a conversation about what are considered tolerable trade-offs in trying to reach the highest level of security possible,” says Walda.

Ultimately, the goal of this national project is to have a higher level of security and safety on campuses across the nation—both real and perceived, says Walda. “This is increasingly important to students and families and is part of the responsibility and mission of every institution.”

KARLA HIGNITE, Kaiserslautern, Germany, is a contributing editor for Business Officer.

Project Partners

Long-time member John Palmucci, vice president of finance and treasurer at Loyola College, Baltimore, is representing NACUBO as chair of the National Campus Safety and Security Project steering committee. Following is a list of the higher education associations and their steering committee member representatives who are partnering with NACUBO on this project. 

American College Personnel Association (ACPA)—Peter D. Brown, associate executive director

Association of Higher Education Facilities Officers (APPA)—Bill Elvey, associate director of facilities management, University of Texas–Dallas

Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB)—Elizabeth Ballantine, president, EBA Associates

EDUCAUSE—Rodney Petersen, government relations officer and security task force coordinator

International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA)—Steve Healy, director of public safety, Princeton University

National Association of College and University Attorneys (NACUA)—Nancy Tribbensee, general counsel for the Arizona University System, Arizona Board of Regents

University Risk Management and Insurance Association (URMIA)—Allen J. Bova, director of risk management and insurance, Cornell University

This effort has also been endorsed by the nation’s six primary presidential associations: the American Council on Education, the American Association of Community Colleges, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, the Association of American Universities, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, and the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges.

For additional information about the project, contact James A. Hyatt, project director and principal investigator, 202.861.2570; or Anne Gross, NACUBO vice president for regulatory affairs, 202.861.2544.