Higher education can be an intense experience not just for students, but also for the faculty and support staff. Building a safe and secure environment for all stakeholders can greatly improve academic outcomes.
The higher ed analytics site CollegeStats.org surveyed more than 179,000 students across the U.S. about their safety concerns. Student responses covered a wide range of topics: excessive drinking, thefts on campus, assault, and more. This breadth of results illustrates that institutions of higher ed have their work cut out for them, but should nonetheless build comprehensive security programs to create the safer learning environments their students and staff need.
How can you improve security on your college campus?
- Plan strategically
- Form valuable partnerships
- Train everyone
- Use technology that works for you
- Be transparent with incident reporting
- Be flexible
1. Plan Strategically
Security is a key service that most students and their families expect every college and university to provide, but cookie-cutter security programs aren’t going to work. Campus security must be strategically tailored to each individual institution and its unique academic mission.
For example, large liberal arts campuses need to support students moving between different buildings as they attend a variety of classes. Meanwhile, science and engineering schools need to ensure that students have ready access to sensitive and sometimes regulated materials used for research. And schools with large athletics programs need to effectively manage crowds on game days.
These colleges are all going to have different definitions of effective security, but each will need to balance their special considerations with more universal security measures that cover the entire campus, including classrooms, dorms, rec facilities, and all the spaces in between.
2. Form Valuable Partnerships
Colleges and universities are well-positioned to become anchor institutions that support their surrounding communities. To do that, they need to form partnerships with local community groups. This could include:
- Partnering with schools to develop mentorship programs
- Arranging discount plans to encourage students to use local businesses
- Organizing student volunteer opportunities with local nonprofits
For security purposes, partnering with local police forces can be particularly beneficial. Crime doesn’t care about “town and gown” boundaries, so sharing resources can be cost-effective and mutually beneficial to both forces.
Developing these bonds between the college and the community builds trust and keeps communication open. Improved communication can help law enforcement better respond to threats that affect the whole area. There are many organizations looking to foster these kinds of partnership initiatives, such as the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities.
3. Train Everyone
Safety isn’t just for security staff to understand. Everyone at higher ed institutions needs to achieve an actionable level of security awareness training.
For example, faculty and staff—who have more day-to-day interactions with students than security officers—need to know how to respond when threats arise. This could include assigning emergency response roles to staff so they understand what to do when large-scale incidents occur, or it could mean behavioral threat assessment training for faculty so they can recognize the warning signs of impending violence.
Students are probably the best positioned to improve campus safety and security. In the CollegeStats.org survey mentioned above, excessive drinking and sexual assault were cited as top student concerns. Proper training may improve the likelihood that students will keep each other safe from such threats.
4. Use Technology That Works for You
Don’t buy technology piecemeal. You could end up with a bunch of different tools that, although they do their own tasks well, together create a bunch of inefficiencies. Your college or university needs to deploy technology that both fits into your overall security plan and integrates with your other systems.
Because no one knows what new systems will be needed down the road, one of the simplest ways to ensure you’re always ready is to deploy security technologies that work with open standards. These are publicly available, accepted design requirements that allow complex security and IT tools to work together.
Another good way to prepare for the future is to use flexible technologies that adapt to your workflows. Here are a few technologies worth considering:
Access Control Systems
Electronic access control tools, such as swipe and proximity cards, can help ensure that only authorized students, faculty, and staff enter dorms and other private campus locations. Some institutions have special access control needs too. For example, when there are medical and chemical research spaces, some scientific instruments require radioactive compounds that are federally regulated. Those regulations often include mandated biometric access control.
Emergency Alert Systems
Effective campus security programs must include ways for the security office to quickly alert the college community to important events. The goal is getting an alert seen by as many people as quickly as possible. SMS alert systems are now a common solution, because most students and staff have a smartphone on them at all times.
Additionally, security officers need to be able to receive notifications from anywhere in the community. Among students, blue-light phones are a popular and effective way to improve security on college campuses.
Securing large numbers of keys can be a daunting task. College campuses may have hundreds to thousands of keys that they need to track. Automating key management can help you redirect staffing resources to more productive work while still avoiding the potentially huge costs of lost keys.
A large number of student laptops, electronics, backpacks, purses, and other valuables move around campuses every day. Thieves know this, so these assets need to be kept secured when unattended, such as when students are in class or at events. A college’s own internal equipment needs to be managed too, including a security office’s two-way radios, first aid kits, and hand guns. A customized, automated storage and management system might be a good solution to secure both types of assets.
There are usually a large number of service vehicles, buses, and carts moving around campuses every day, and efficiently managing them can be difficult to do manually. Electronic fleet management systems can be a good way to automate the tedious but important work of ensuring that vehicles are serviced and available when needed.
Video surveillance systems can fill in the gaps of a security program. No matter how hard you try, there will still be areas that you can’t easily secure with other technology or staff. Deploying cameras in at-risk areas such as between blue phone locations, along remote walking paths, or in parking lots can provide more complete campus security.
5. Be Transparent with Incident Reporting
Smart security technology can also help with mandated Clery Act disclosures. Despite recent changes in the statute’s enforcement, Clery violations remain a serious concern. In fact, since 2017, individual fines have more than doubled to $54,000 per incident. Smart security systems are constantly gathering data. This data can often be turned into reports using security management software that makes Clery and many other kinds of reporting easy.
Incident reporting is useful for more than just regulatory compliance though. It is just generally good communication. This kind of transparency around student safety can help build trust between security staff and the rest of the college community.
6. Above All, Be Flexible
This might be the most important best practice. Higher education is always changing. Schools are always looking to provide students with new and exciting experiences. Campus security programs need to manage special events where crowd control is a necessity to keep everyone safe. These could be sporting events, like we already discussed, but they also could be concerts, festivals, and controversial speakers on campus.
It can help to build security directly into your campus environment. This is sometimes called Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). The goal of CPTED is to tailor a campus’s layout and landscaping to passively discourage crime. Lighting is a key element in this. Sufficient lighting in parking lots and along walkways not only deters criminals, but the improved visibility also makes surveillance and response efforts easier.
Fencing and landscaping can be used to route people to preferred entrance and exit points. During large events, well-fenced routes around campus can help control and concentrate crowds to specific areas so security staff are able to focus their protection where it matters. When security staff isn’t sprawled out across a large area, they will be available to respond to incidents faster.
Time to Build a Better Educational Environment
Higher education depends on reliable security programs that keep everyone on a campus safe. There are many ways to improve security on college campuses. But you don’t need to spend more or recruit more to get it. Security begins with finding the right tools to build a more secure environment for learning and student life.
Take a look at some of the solutions Real Time Networks offers to higher education to see how they can improve your campus security.
About the Author
Vice President of Marketing
Jay oversees marketing and strategic partnerships at Real Time Networks and has over three decades of experience in leadership roles in the financial services and technology industries.