When a Crisis Hits, Proactive Colleges are Prepared with People, Plans and Technology

Whether your campus is large or small, or in a major city or suburban town, schools will remain susceptible to major incidents because:

  • Many people are in one place
  • It’s difficult to keep campuses closed
  • Large area for security to cover
  • Shock value of students/young citizens being harmed

The question is, are you prepared?

Preparation goes beyond responding to a threat, it includes anticipating, managing, and evaluating a crisis. In other words, having an effective plan and measures in place before, during, and after a potential incident can be a matter of life or death.

Determine the Right Plan, Team, and Technology Before a Crisis

The first step in preparation is having a Crisis Management Plan (CMP). Here are four key steps to creating a CMP:

  1. Assess Your Risks

The first step is to evaluate all the potential crises that could occur on your campus. List all relevant threats and vulnerabilities that could impact your campus, including fire, riots, active shooter, bomb threat, natural disaster, or terrorist attack.

  1. Determine the Impact

Next, you need to determine the impact of each potential incident. This may include casualties, property damage, disruption of classes or administrative functions, financial impacts, as well as public reputation.

  1. Identify Contingencies

Once you know the risks and impacts of each potential crises, determine actions your institution will take to respond to each scenario. Plan the steps required to resolve each crisis, resources needed, and which departments and employees or community partners (e.g., local police, state police, fire department) can help.

  1. Train and Inform

Once you have the plan in place, create a Crisis Management Team (CMT) that will implement the plan. The CMT and other employees should be informed of the plan and properly trained. Students should also be informed about what to do and whom to contact during emergencies.

The CMT is responsible for determining when to activate the CMP and delegating responsibilities during a crisis. The CMT varies for different universities, but often is led by the vice president of student affairs and includes representatives from campus law enforcement, academics, finance, public relations, and the university legal team.

“If nothing else, putting together a plan helps cement those relationships across campus that are critical when you’re in a crisis,” Donn Marshall, associate dean of students at the University of Puget Sound, told the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.[1]

Most colleges already have a crisis management plan. According to a survey by the National Center for Campus Public Safety,[2] 65 percent of emergency management professionals say their institution’s leadership is committed to crisis management. However, nearly three-quarters of respondents believe there needs to be more emergency training.

It’s not only important for campus officials to have emergency training, but students as well. Student training is particularly important for active shooter incidents, which have more than doubled the last five years, according to the Citizens Crime Commission.[3]

“Schools should make students aware that incidents can happen and should prepare them with training for how to act in case of an incident like an active shooter,” said Tim Kuchac, a former lieutenant with the San Jose Police Department and current Training Director of V5 Systems. “You have fire drills, you have earthquake drills, and nowadays it makes sense to have active shooter drills.”

Though Preparing for an Incident is Vital, Preventing One is Ideal

Officials should always evaluate their campus environment for potential threats and implement measures to avert or reduce the likelihood of an incident.

The best prevention methods include using the latest technology for your campus. Here are some of the most effective technologies:

  • Video surveillance, particularly outdoor solutions that monitor entry points of your campus, can help spot suspicious activity before it escalates and enable security to react faster
  • Security apps can provide pertinent emergency information to students and faculty in real-time and can potentially save lives
  • Smart entry cards, embedded with computer chips, that restrict building access to authorized students and faculty

Effective Communication and Real-Time Security Insight Can Save Lives

Of course, not all incidents are preventable. In those cases, institutions should be prepared to implement their CMP quickly to ensure public safety and minimize damage.

When an incident occurs, the CMT must:

First, determine the level of the crisis or threat. For example, Louisburg College[4] categorizes incidents into three levels:

  • Level 1 is one-dimensional crises that are confined to one building and may involve personal injury
  • Level 2 involves more than one building or area and may be a serious crime, fire, bomb threat, or active shooter
  • Level 3 impacts the entire campus, such as a terrorist attack or natural disaster

The type of incident will determine the proper response, whether a lockdown is necessary, in which buildings and classrooms are locked and everyone shelters in place, or if an evacuation is required.

Second, communication is important during an incident. The CMP or a CMT member should determine the proper method of emergency communication, whether text, email, app alert, or loudspeaker to notify students and faculty about incidents and give them critical instructions during a crisis.

Technology helps during the incident as well. In particular, a security solution that not only provides video surveillance but detects sound, such as gunshots, can help campus security locate a shooter faster and minimize casualties.

In an active shooter incident, Kuchac says many times gunshot detection can give police more accurate location details than a 911 caller because it can pinpoint the direction shots were fired and which way a shooter is moving. A caller under duress is typically less likely to be able to communicate the location details during a stressful incident.

Providing Compassion and Care is Critical in Aftermath of Incidents

The work isn’t over after an incident. The university will have to share details of the incident with the campus community and reassure everyone of their safety.

The emotional impact of the crisis is very significant. If there are injuries or deaths, it’s important to notify family members first and respect their privacy. The university should be actively involved in the healing process, making counselors available and assigning representatives to victims’ families.

The CMT should also meet to evaluate the incident, the communication, and response and implement any necessary changes to the plan. This process should include the entire team and be guided by three primary questions:

  • What went well and what went poorly?
  • What are the key lessons learned?
  • What changes do we need to make to the organization, procedures or resources?

All aspects of the response and implementation should be reviewed, including:

  • Speed in communicating crisis to officials and public
  • Response time of emergency and security personnel
  • Effectiveness of response in minimizing damage or casualties
  • Ways incident could have been prevented or minimized
  • Resources used during crises response

The evaluation could include interviews with administration, law enforcement, students, and faculty, focus groups, or surveys to incorporate feedback into the evaluation process.

Security Solutions Can Help Before, During, and After an Incident

V5 Systems provides security solutions that help colleges and universities prevent, respond to, and evaluate crime incidents. Its advanced, self-powered outdoor security solutions monitor and secure all areas of your campus easily without being tied to existing infrastructure. These solutions include video surveillance, video analytics and acoustic gunshot detection that can both detect and localize the source of gunfire providing real-time, validated alerts on any smart device.

Learn more about V5 Systems’ self-powered technology by requesting a 15-minute demo here:

V5 Systems Security Overview

[1] When a Student Dies. Council for Advancement and Support of Education. http://www.case.org/Publications_and_Products/2016/September_2016/When_a_Student_Dies.html

[2] National Higher Education Emergency Management Program Needs, November 2016. National Center for Campus Public Safety. https://www.nccpsafety.org/assets/files/library/NCCPS_EM_Needs_Assessment_FINAL_113016.pdf

[3] Aiming at Students: The College Gun Violence Epidemic. Citizens Crime Commission. http://www.nycrimecommission.org/pdfs/CCC-Aiming-At-Students-College-Shootings-Oct2016.pdf

[4] Loisburg College Crisis Management Plan. www.louisburg.edu/news/ESI-002B%20Crisis%20Management%20Plan.docx

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