Challenges in Higher Education Security: Open Environments
University and college campuses are open environments, where safety and security controls often need to coexist with accessibility of spaces and freedom of movement.
A single building may host daily public events but also contain a critical lab that is subject to stringent security requirements. Private residents might own property and live within or around the campus. Municipal roads may crisscross with pedestrian walkways and bike paths. A student or a teacher could have access to a building for one semester or only a few classes throughout their time at the institution. These competing physical and operational conditions require a nuanced security program that aims to build a culture of safety while respecting the privacy and accessibility of its users.
The initial step in developing such a balanced program is engagement with users at all levels. This includes understanding the privacy concerns of residents, safety issues surrounding various modes of transport, and layered security controls of a multipurpose building. The next step is to maintain cross-functional engagement with other operational departments of the institution, such as real estate, facilities, plant maintenance, and local authorities. This engagement should remain at a proactive level so that it allows for out-of-box and industry-agnostic solutions to be considered and implemented.
Competing physical and operational conditions require a nuanced security program that aims to build a culture of safety while respecting the privacy and accessibility of its users.
Traditional security controls—such as access control and video management—that are used to locally harden or monitor high risk areas can be complemented with smarter technologies and environmental design principles to provide additional layers of security while maintaining openness and freedom of movement. Smart occupancy sensors, cameras, or analytics can provide proactive monitoring of those sensitive areas, which can reduce last-minute response events, such as breaches or unauthorized access attempts.
At the perimeter level, traditional use of benches, tree lines, and sculptures can create multifunction areas and green spaces, while also providing a layer of security and safety from vehicular incidents and related active threats.
Collaboration with construction and planning teams within the institution and local municipality is important to develop a safe and accessible campus. If the municipality or the campus is considering a renovation or a construction project, timely planning to incorporate tree lines, planters, or seating can be cost-effective and security-conscious steps. Similarly, traffic calming solutions, such as graded streets, cobblestone or brick layered alleys, signage, marked bike lines, and lighted pathways can all enhance the safety of the campus population and those passing through.
A robust awareness strategy is an important additional layer to supplement physical controls. Students, faculty, and visitors will not typically be in one building long term. Therefore, building and promoting a culture of safety—not surveillance—is critical.
Traditional media like TV displays or signage can be used to broadcast security and safety messages, evacuation routes, and emergency exits. More innovative methods, such as wayfinding apps, can be used to provide information on means of egress or basic best practices during an emergency or an active threat. Most people visiting a building will not remember exact details, but providing a consistent message around safety and security will raise overall awareness on how to best respond or who to contact during an emergency.
Incorporating security and safety training with orientations or annual fire and life safety sessions is a simple and efficient way to train the trainers.
Security organizations can also reimagine certain training efforts to parallel awareness campaigns. Sharing shorter but more frequent safety tips through social media, digital media, and sporting events can facilitate periodic reminders on best practices. Incorporating security and safety training with orientations or annual fire and life safety sessions is a simple and efficient way to train the trainers.
In this series, we have explored the various physical security challenges for universities and some of the solutions to address them. The last element to ensure that the proposed solutions can be effectively deployed is executive adoption and sponsorship. Security programs that are aligned with leadership goals and have an executive sponsor behind them are typically approved more quickly and have successful implementation through their lifecycle.
The initial step in this element is to ensure that the security program is aligned with the goals set by executive leadership—for example, an open and accessible environment, an innovative footprint (cloud, hosted solutions), or a focus on enhanced user experience (mobile or integrated solutions).
A documented program with a clearly defined risk profile and deployment roadmap is the next tool to provide executive leadership with an informed plan that can realize value and set expectations. The lifecycle plan (see the technology and systems piece of this series) can help develop and maintain that value driven program.
Awareness plans and other engagement initiatives are additional steps in raising security’s overall profile and value proposition. Similar level of engagement and awareness with the executive leadership can also help the institution’s security portfolio remain current and informed.
The last element to ensure that the proposed solutions can be effectively deployed is executive adoption and sponsorship.
Universities and colleges face several challenges while managing their security portfolios. An organized and strategic approach—which helps establish the current state, develop a strategic plan, and build engagement with all stakeholders—can help mitigate those challenges. A risk- and solution-focused portfolio that has strong leadership buy-in and active engagement with its user often has an easier road to adoption and sustainability.
Mohammed Atif Shehzad is the founder and managing director of Atriade, a full-service security consulting firm. He has extensive background in program development, strategic master planning, and executive-level program sponsorship. Shehzad also oversees program development and management efforts at several universities and colleges.