Q&A: An Interview with Bill Warren, CPP, on School Security

What should schools be doing? Would profiling have worked? What technologies should be in place for school security?

In the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings from this Monday, SecurityInfoWatch.com reached out to ask these questions to Bill Warren, CPP, president of Vectra Security Services in Atlanta, Ga. Warren is the former physical security manager for the Georgia Tech Research Institute, which had to answer to DoD-level security measures due to the nature of the institute's research. The institute had six facilities spread across campus, serving a couple thousand faculty, staff, students and researchers, and had its own security department.

Before handling physical security for the Georgia Tech Research Institute, Warren served for 31 years with the U.S. Secret Service, retiring as a senior security specialist. His detail included advance work for presidential visits assessing the physical environment. Now, partially retired after leaving Georgia Tech last year, he manages his consulting firm, providing risk assessments, security surveys and other such services.

SIW: Bill, what was the technology situation in terms of what was being used by security at the Georgia Tech Research Institute?

We had an access control system using Andover products. We also had alarms, using ADT and Honeywell products. We additionally had a monitored CCTV system that allowed for remote monitoring at our command center. When I was there, the campus was in the process of adding an audio notification system using loud speakers that had been funded by a DHS security grant. We had looked at mass notification systems, and all the key faculty and staff were in our telephone notification system. We had also tied in with the campus radio and television stations to allow for emergency notifications.

The way we were set up was that we had a building attendant at the entrance of every building to aid in access control. If something was to occur, they were in the position to notify campus police and the security command center. We also had video surveillance in the buildings, primarily focused on monitoring entryways and exits. That kind of system could have given us information if something like this [Virginia Tech shooting] was to occur. In the after hours, we turned to monitored video surveillance.

Typically video surveillance has been in the halls and lobbies of campus buildings. Is in-classroom surveillance taboo?

I guess to put it in the current terminology, it was not politically correct to put them under surveillance while they were in class. Now, me, as a security person, I think it's a great idea, but the powers that are above us don't want to offend anybody, because one of their purposes is to have a free and open campus. Their ideas of security and a security person's idea of security are often two different things.

Do current campus layouts, which are often spread out and interlaced, tend to create problems?

It complicates the issue because CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) is really a fairly recent innovation in the physical security world. We've only recently begun to think about how the environment directly affects the amount of security you can provide. In the past, architects didn't have to think about that, so they would just lay it out in a manner where everything is just convenient or aesthetically pleasing. Just recently we started thinking about how we design and how we layout facilities in terms of how well we can protect the personnel using these facilities.

How would profiling and early warning signs have affected your operations at the Georgia Tech Research Institute?

Most of our people, because of the type of research that we were doing, all carried DoD security clearances. Any type of activity [like perpetrator Cho Seung-hui's earlier acts, which were recommended for counseling] would have been flagged to us as they were trying to get their security clearances. That would definitely have been something we were interested in and it would have been flagged to our attention for additional vetting. But in his case, he was recommended to go into counseling, but where was a record of that kept which could have been easily accessed? And why would anyone have even accessed it, because he was not a figure that was red-flagged, per se. He stayed underneath the mainstream of everything.

They had no way of knowing. How do you prevent something when you don't think you have a problem in the first place? That's kind of the mentality that we as a nation have had for many years. We really don't expect it to happen here. True, it happened in Columbine, and we ratcheted everything up for a little while, but when nothing happens for a while, we automatically tend to ratchet things back down.

What should schools be doing right now?

They need to very seriously take a look at their campus, especially through eyes of CPTED. They should see how they can improve access, simultaneously controlling access without limiting the free flow of people through the campus. There may be a need to put some additional cameras in place to give them a better view of everything.

I think more than anything, they need to have a viable and operating emergency notification system, be it the panic podiums all around the campus where if they pick a phone up, it's a hotline right into the police, or having a system in each of the buildings for panic systems and communications. Getting communications opened up very quickly - I think that's the secret to a lot of this.