As incidents such as the Virginia Tech and Columbine school shootings have taught us, having crisis management plans in place are paramount in protecting students, staff members and visitors during emergencies in an educational setting. Shootings are not the only incidents that schools have to worry about, however.
According to industry research, incidents that impact the security and safety of schools have been on the increase in recent years. Between April 2008 and April 2009, there was a total of 13 bomb or bomb threat incidents reported at U.S. schools and universities, as well as 17 shootings and two stabbings. However, between April 2009 and January 27, 2011, there was a total of 113 bomb or bomb threat incidents, 72 shootings, 14 stabbings, and 59 cases in which a gun was reported on campus.
To discuss the considerations that schools should taken into account when developing crisis management plans, Robert (Bob) Lang, assistant vice president for strategic security and safety at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, and Berkly Trumbo, national business manager of integrated security solutions for Siemens, joined SIW on Thursday for a webinar on the topic of crisis management on campus.
According to Lang, while organizations will say that they have crisis management plans in place, the reality is that many of them will place it on a shelf somewhere and only pull it out after an incident has occurred. Lang says that schools should go over these plans on a regular basis to ensure that their crisis support personnel know what to do when an incident occurs.
He also warned against the potential of having a knee-jerk reaction to incidents such as mass school shootings. Following the Virginia Tech massacre, Lang said some school security managers implemented mass notification systems and other solutions that didn't work as advertised.
"Your reputation is on the line if you put in a technology that doesn't work half the time," he explained. "You don't want to be someone's beta test."
At Kennesaw State, Lang said they have placed a big emphasis in having trained crisis coordinators in each one of their 36 buildings on campus. In addition to taking four online courses through the Federal Emergency Management Agency's National Incident Management System (NIMS), Kennesaw State crisis coordinators also take four in-house training modules which include; crisis coordinator responsibilities; operation interface with police; terrorism and awareness indicators; and CPR/AED fire extinguisher and hazmat.
Lang said that Kennesaw State also takes a layered approach to mass notification. The first two layers consist of a hosted notification solution that sends alert messages via cellphones and e-mail, as well as a signal siren and voice over warning system. The third layer of the school's mass notification solution is a PC/Mac popup warning, which they can use to override whatever a computer user on the university's network is looking at to show them the alert. Lang said they are also looking into how IP intercoms, digital signage, fire panel consolidation, and call boxes could be deployed at the campus to enhance their mass notification capabilities.
When crafting these alert messages, Lang says it's important that they remain short and to the point.
Trumbo added that schools should also take advantage of the existing security infrastructure they have in place and wrap it around the architecture of a mass notification system. This would include incorporating voice capabilities from existing fire panels, integrating digital signage across campus for visual communications, and creating a desktop alerting group for key personnel.
It's also important, according to Trumbo, for integrators and vendors to be familiar with the university itself prior to implementing a system.
"When you speak with your integrators and technology partners, they need to understand the culture of the university," he said.