Standing Tall

Feb. 1, 2009
Comprehensive security solutions for multi-location campuses.

Many colleges and universities are intensifying security measures to protect students, staff and visitors. The challenges for keeping a single campus safe are formidable. An even greater challenge exists when planning and establishing security at multiple locations.

College campuses often are thought of as contiguous, with defined boundaries. However, it is rare to find a college or university that is totally self-contained. Most institutions have buildings situated away from the campus core. These off-campus facilities may house professional schools, evening programs, research centers or economic-development engines such as research and development labs or business incubator facilities.

Many larger urban universities pressed for square footage will acquire additional space for academic or administrative functions. And, with parking spaces at a premium, some schools must use remote locations to provide parking for students, employees, contractors and visitors. The colleges may run shuttles to the core of campus for 16 hours or more each day. Some multi-location colleges, especially entrepreneurial for-profit institutions, have a business model based on maintaining satellite locations throughout the country. So, what are the challenges for an education institution that needs to protect multiple campuses?

Education administrators understand that a campus with a poor reputation for safety will not score high with retention, admissions, fund-raising initiatives or employment attractiveness to faculty and staff.

Working with professionals

Most larger higher-education institutions supplement their internal police or security workforce with privatized security.

What should a multi-location institution look for when hiring contract security? Consistency of security service across multiple locations is paramount, and colleges and universities are best served by one central resource. Hence, universities often look for a national contract security services company that has a single point of contact and that can scale up or down in services across multiple, diverse locations.

The questions to ask before making this contracting decision are significant. Can this security provider deliver consistent service across multiple locations? A company that has presence in New York, Boston and Los Angeles may not have the same capacity to manage and staff campuses in other parts of the country. A security company must be able to deliver in each region.

The security officer labor pool differs widely from market to market in level of experience, qualifications and salaries. Often, pressures to negotiate for a lower, national fee as a consideration for a volume discount are counterproductive; the cost of experienced officers in Manhattan, N.Y., differs greatly from salaries paid in Manhattan, Kan.

All-hazards support increasingly is factored into a security decision. Is a contract security firm able to handle emergency responses emanating from natural or manmade disasters? These emergency scenarios could range from a chemical leak in a research facility to on-campus violence and acts of nature, including earthquakes and tornadoes.

Contracting considerations

A major issue for colleges and universities is finding a security provider that has experience protecting many different kinds of off-campus facilities. A downtown location for a public-affairs program is likely to have an office setting; research facilities may present challenges similar to those found in the manufacturing industry. Universities often have multi-use properties, so the challenges of retail and mall security also must be understood. Many campuses are turning to private developers to build and manage campus residence halls — and the security needed to protect these living spaces, especially during weekend and overnight hours, creates a whole new set of challenges that require knowledge of campus and national regulations.

A security officer can be the eyes and ears for campus police at residence halls, academic buildings and elsewhere. On college campuses, many problems happen on weekends or between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. With off-site commuter and continuing-education colleges, campuses need security from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. as students navigate their way to mass transit hubs or parking lots.

Another challenge for an off-campus location is the cold start. Where a campus security force may assemble for roll call and disperse to their posts after receiving instruction, the multi-campus security officer typically reports to his or her assignment without supervisory oversight. How does a security company ensure that a post is filled? What supervisory oversight is provided to the officer for instruction and relief? Are officers getting the support they need?

Student guards?

Historically, student workers have been hired as relatively low-cost, part-time security workers. Expecting students to monitor other students may be a slippery slope. They may find it difficult to handle peer pressure or enforce policy. Although many students perform diligently in this role, using students in this capacity can raise numerous obstacles related to scheduling, training, background checking and managing a student security work force.

In recent years, some universities have contracted their residence hall monitoring functions to professional security companies. For such arrangements to succeed, a program should make sure that security officers master the fundamentals of protection as practiced, and regulated, in an institutional environment, including understanding the legal framework and the culture of the college.

Campus officials should define a specific role for contract security officers; they can perform many routine tasks (e.g., personal safety escort services, foot patrols, parking details, vehicle assists, etc.), and supplement building safety and maintenance systems.

Safety awareness on campus

Security On Campus, Inc. was formed 20 years ago by Connie and Howard Clery in response to the death of their daughter, Jeanne, who was killed in her college residence hall by a student she did not know. The doors to her hall, which should have been locked, were propped open by fellow students. Jeanne's parents were instrumental in championing the Clery Act, a federal law that requires colleges and universities to disclose information about campus crime and security policies.

The Clery Act requires that certain information about a campus' safety program and major crime statistics are reported annually. A multi-campus institution must maintain daily crime logs and provide separate reports for each campus. An experienced security provider can help a college or university understand and follow the Clery regulations.

If a college or university contracts with a security-services company, the firm needs to be able to conduct comprehensive background screening, including employment history, criminal records and drug tests.

Does the college's contract security firm have a commitment to continual training? Parents and students should expect that campus security professionals and any firm hired by a college are committed to enhancing the technical skills and industry knowledge through comprehensive training programs. Training for security officers is even more crucial in a multi-campus environment where more day-to-day variances are expected. The challenges that face officers on multi-campus facilities range from protecting an off-site research medical facility from drug theft, to walking students to their cars after hours at an off-campus commuter college facility.

Also, administrators responsible for hiring security contractors need to know not only what their safety and security employees are doing to stay current with best practices, but also what a security firm's investment is specific to the issues encountered on a college campus (Clery Act, FERPA, alcohol abuse, etc.).

College administrators and security professionals must take the lead and set the standard for campus safety, but student involvement also is important. Campus crime prevention always starts and ends with an individual student. Every student needs to have the information needed to make safe choices.

Being aware of surroundings, using assertive body language, keeping doors locked, and using the buddy system will help students feel safer and may deter a potential attacker. These life and safety skills should be promoted regularly and shared with students. An experienced security provider can help with those initiatives and provide specific recommendations that students, faculty, staff and community members can follow.

Rosenberg is vice president of AlliedBarton Security Services' Higher Education division, King of Prussia, Pa., a provider of trained security personnel to many industries. He can be reached at [email protected].

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