Let’s face it. Educational facilities are soft targets due to their very nature and mission. As with most public areas and buildings, schools, colleges, and universities are open environments, which make them extremely challenging to protect. Unfortunately, this is a given in any type of educational institution emergency risk management plan pertaining to violence.
Risk managers and leaders must develop a protective mindset. Acknowledge that your institution needs a plan and then take action. Don’t just talk about the plan, Do not deny your need for a strategy. Be proactive and institute concrete strategies towards developing a plan.
Assemble the TeamUse a team of internal stakeholders to help formulate the plan. Key team members include human resources, security, legal, risk management, health and safety, and executive leadership. Also include departmental managers and supervisors, as well as facilities and maintenance personnel.
Consider including outside resource partners in addition to your institutional staff. These individuals include safe consultants, loss control consultants, and security experts. These partners have expertise that will assist in connecting your institution with local, state, and federal emergency management resources.
The leaders of your team do not always have to come from the top or executive level. There are internal members of that team that can also serve as leaders. These are persons who are excited and passionate about this process and often help to push and drive towards an end goal.
Risk AssessmentInstruct your team to conduct a thorough security risk assessment, using outside independent consultants. It’s important to know your institution’s strengths and weaknesses before you develop an overall plan. The risk assessment is critical to help you develop effective emergency response plans. The following three P’s are the three key areas that are going to be the most important to you in terms regarding assessment.
- Policies and procedures: What are the documented action steps for policies and procedures that govern your security risk management program? Do these include access control policies, identity management policies, lock down policies, surveillance policies, or all of the above?
- Protection systems: What types of hard physical protection systems do you have in place—access control, duress alarms, lighting, landscaping, guards, etc.?
- People: Your culture— This is also the key to your success. Does your institution have a lax security culture or a very strong culture of protection? Implementing best practices in policies and procedures or installing a million dollar physical protection system is negated if just one person props open the door when they go out for a walk.
Develop the PlanWith risk assessment completed, you can develop your emergency response plan and pre-event mitigation strategies. Align these with the needs of your institution.
Always remember that your plans should not focus solely on prevention strategies and response, but also on next steps. Phases of the emergency management plan should include business continuity and recovery.
- How will we quickly return to a sense of operational normalcy after the event occurs?
- How will we recover?
- What steps will we initially take to continue forward as rapidly as possible?
Train and Test the PlanOnce the plan is completed, schedule training for faculty and staff. You can have the best plan in the world but if no one knows what that plan is, then you have no plan at all. Take time to educate your stakeholders of their roles and responsibilities in emergency management for your institution
Next, test the plan. An actual emergency is not the time to determine the effectiveness of the plan. Instead, conduct tabletop exercises, lunch and learns, in-service trainings, drills, etc. All plans have to be tested and practiced to truly determine their effectiveness.
This process can seem overwhelming and daunting. Initially, you might not be able to see the end result. However, you have to take the first step. No one ever gets to the end through a lack of effort or a failure to act.
Fighting an Apathetic CultureAs you develop an emergency response plan, you will likely face challenges. People often think:
“These types of things will not happen here.”
“These types of events never really impact a small quiet campus like ours.”
“We don’t have time to address this.”
“There are other things more pressing and are a higher priority to us.”
Resist the inclination to fall into an apathetic mindset. Remember, if an emergency or disaster occurs, you may be called to testify in court. If you should find yourself on the witness stand, one of the first questions the plaintiff’s counsel will is, “What was your plan to respond to this event? And what were your pre-incident mitigation strategies?”
Creating an emergency response plan can seem overwhelming. Outside consultants and local and regional emergency management professionals can provide great insight to the information you need.
Educational campuses have a risk of violent incidents occurring at any time. The impact that can be felt from one of these catastrophic incidents of violence tends to impact us on various levels. It’s important to start planning right now.