The four pillars of campus security

A look at basic areas that need to be addressed as college students, faculty members head back to school

Over the next few weeks more than 20 million college and university students will make their way back to campus for another year of study. While the vast majority of campuses are generally safe places, consider:

  • In the first half of 2013, at least a dozen students were shot or killed in campus incidents across the U.S.
  • According to FBI statistics, there were 92,965 crimes reported to college and university campus police in 2010. Most were property crimes, but there were also reports of murder, rape, aggravated assault and robberies.
  • The U.S. Department of Justice reports that one in five women will be victims of an attempted or actual sexual assault during their college careers.

Statistics such as these understandably concern parents. Campus administrators and police share those concerns and most are taking reasonable precautions to protect students, faculty, staff and visitors. Since the passage of the federal Clery Act, we have a better way to compare campuses. The act requires all publicly funded colleges and universities to issue an annual report on campus crime. Those reports can be found on individual campus websites.

Campus security can be broken into four broad areas — policies and procedures; physical and environmental factors; technology; and, integration. The security process begins with an annual risk assessment, a systematic evaluation that may involve thousands of inspection points on a larger campus. It’s best conducted by an experienced outside expert who can bring a fresh eye to the review of those fundamentals that play a vital role in securing a campus. And remember, creating a safe and secure college or university campus requires buy-in from the entire population, beginning with top administrators.

Policies and procedures

What can go wrong on a college or university campus is limited only by imagination. The federal government now identifies many different scenarios that might trigger a campus lockdown.

During a major emergency, count on all segments of the campus population becoming involved. Staff, faculty and even students may play a role in communications, traffic control and monitoring muster stations. This is where detailed playbooks provide the policies and procedures for handling events ranging from minor events to full-blown campus-wide emergencies. Once the playbooks are written, it’s important to hold regular drills to make sure everyone understands their role in various scenarios.  

Most campuses are part of a much larger community, so it’s vital to maintain close contacts with local law enforcement and other first responders. These authorities need to know who to contact at the campus during an emergency and they can respond more quickly and effectively if they have updated campus maps and building blueprints.

Physical and Environmental Factors

In creating a security plan, a campus’ unique size, topography, climate and other physical and environmental factors will come into play. The risk assessment will identify these factors.

Dark or remote campus areas can be improved by proper lighting, a low-tech, yet critical component of a good security plan. A risk assessor will walk the campus looking for those spaces that pose security dangers or even liability risks if not properly lit. Bright lighting should extend to parking lots, walkways, recreation sites and other isolated areas.

Most risk assessors will include a section on crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED), another low-tech approach to security. Trees and other vegetation should be thinned and cut back so they don’t block views into buildings, nor provide a place for criminals to hide and/or conceal weapons.


Access control systems are a key element of a well-planned campus security program. An access system can remotely lock and unlock main entries at appropriate times. When not in use, all buildings should remain locked. Open, unstaffed buildings provide a tempting target for thieves and other criminals looking for a place to conduct business.

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