Open campus – two of the most important words when independent schools advertise to prospective new families. “Come, join our school family and you can visit your child on campus at any time of day, pop in on their classrooms, have lunch with them, and let them leave campus if they’re seniors.” How inviting and appealing to prospective families!
Here at Invictus Consulting we are absolutely in favor of the things that open campuses foster – parent involvement, increased accountability and openness, increased community in the school, and freedom for older students. We think those things are positive and create great schools. With that said, an open campus is a security liability, and the aspects an open campus foster can be achieved while at the same time maintaining a safe learning and working environment.
We have conducted risk assessments for many private or independent schools around the country. While every school presents its own unique risks related to size, location, affiliation, and student body, we have found that most schools face the same issues regardless of where they’re located or how big they are. We are going to explore the top five common issues we find and the questions that schools can ask themselves as they grapple with these issues.
Issue #1: Lack of a Culture of Security
Interestingly, we often find a lack of a culture of security even in schools that have good physical security measures like fences, access control cards, and security guards.
Fort Knox has electric fences, heavily armed guards, alarms, video cameras, a granite-lined vault, torch-resistant and drill-resistant walls, combination locks, a 22-ton blast door, and barbed razor wire. It is surrounded by a mine field and has a strict no-visitor policy. Fort Knox rightly deserves its reputation as a heavily fortified site. Sometimes we go in to a risk assessment and the client worries that we want to turn their school or campus or building into Fort Knox. They’re worried that we will recommend fortified fences, cameras in every crevice of the campus, alarms on every single door, a visitor management policy that prohibits all visitors, electronic access control measures on every single ingress/egress point, and armed guards at every entrance and roving the campus.
We do believe in the importance of physical security measures such as fences, alarms, cameras, access control, and guards. But unless a school’s culture and policies reflect a commitment to safety, they could be as heavily fortified as Fort Knox and still be vulnerable.
You could have card readers at every single door in the facility, but if people routinely leave doors ajar, the technology has done you no good. You could have CCTV cameras on every inch of the campus, but if no one is watching the displays in real time, the technology has not improved your security. You could have a visitor management policy that checks all identification with registered sex offenders, but if you have areas of the campus that are wide open (i.e., no fences) and people can simply walk on to campus without going through a security check point, then your technology has not made the campus a safer place.
Technology is not a crutch. Without instilling proper values and policies to create a culture of safety, physical security measures can only go so far in protecting your people.
Particularly in small independent schools, we find that some families and parents simply bypass the school’s check-in procedure or resent the imposition of having to check in and wear a badge. This is an issue we frequently find in the smaller private schools because parents feel that they are well-known by the faculty and staff and should not need to have their identification verified or wear a badge. Parents in private schools also often feel that they have the right to come on to their child’s campus at any time of the school day since they are paying tuition to the school. It is reasonable to allow parents on campus frequently as it fosters school spirit, parent involvement, and a warm and inviting atmosphere; with that said, most parents would welcome increased security measures if they were properly educated on the importance of such measures. If parents know the security value of following all visitor management policies procedures, they are more likely to follow the rules and cooperate with any new measures.
It is important to get the buy-in of all concerned parties when talking about creating a culture of security on campus:
Instilling a culture of security at your school is the first step in improving the overall security of the institution. When administrators, faculty, staff, students, and parents understand what the security measures are and why they are in place, they are more likely to comply. The more people that comply, the greater the culture of security becomes, and the process self-perpetuates.
Issue #2: Lack of Sufficient Budget
Independent schools generate much of their income from tuition payments, endowments, and donations. Many of the schools we have assessed have large budgets for upgrading the choir room, giving every child a computer, re-turfing the football field, and buying new basketballs every year. These things are undoubtedly important to the school and the parents who are paying tuition; Invictus Consulting does not challenge that fact. What we do challenge is the mindset that paying for security measures is not as important as new computers, sports equipment, and facilities.
Surprisingly, many security measures do not cost much money; in fact, the most important step of creating a culture of security doesn’t have to cost a school any money. Most schools have existing policies and procedures related to visitor management and student and faculty conduct and some level of physical security measures like fences, keys, and cameras; the issue is that many of these schools aren’t using these measures to their full extent. It doesn’t cost anything to follow the existing visitor management policy; it doesn’t cost the school anything to make sure teachers comply with rules related to locking doors; it doesn’t cost anything to start using more functions of your CCTV that are already installed and not being used.
This is not to say that improving campus security is completely without monetary cost. Of course installing new cameras, fencing the back of the campus, or adding electronic identification verification software will cost the school money. But we remind schools that they are using this money to protect their number one asset – the students and faculty on campus. When the decision makers understand that their number one asset is the people on campus, it is then their job to make sure all key players and stakeholders (which includes the parents and students) understand it too. When everyone is on the same page about what the most important thing at the school is, then the stakeholders are more likely to budget the money to protect it.
Issue #3: Lack of Processes
We have come across a startling number of independent schools that have an emergency operations plan but have never shared it with the faculty, staff, or students. In fact, we have seen schools that have an emergency operations plan that tasks specific individuals with specific tasks (e.g., Mrs. Weston will lock the lunchroom doors after making sure everyone is out of the room during a lockdown), but these people are completely unaware of their role in an emergency – Mrs. Weston has never seen the emergency operations plan, and she certainly is unaware of her role since no one has ever bothered to tell her about it. We’ve also seen many schools that have printed out boiler plate emergency operations plans and not even bothered to put in their unique data. For example, we found one instance where the emergency operations plan called for a Crisis Response Team to be formed by the Headmaster, Head of the Lower School, Dean of Students, and Guidance Counselor; this particular school did not use any of these particular titles – they called their Headmaster the “Head of School” and their Head of Lower School the “Grade School Principal,” and they didn’t even have a Dean of Students or a designated Guidance Counselor position. Clearly this school had printed out a boiler plate emergency operations plan and had not even bothered to change the text to reflect the specifics of their institution.
Sadly, we come across scenarios like the two above more often than not; schools usually have some rudimentary form of an emergency plan, but more times than not very few people on campus are familiar with the existence of the plan and no one has gone through a drill to practice the details in the plan. If a school does have a solid emergency operations plan, this is an instance of improving security without spending money – the administration should disseminate the plan to faculty and staff, spend some time discussing it with them, and carry out practice drills for various scenarios (e.g., lockdown, tornado, chemical spill).
While most schools we have assessed had some sort of emergency operations plan, we found that most plans need updating and improvements (e.g., inclusion of more emergency scenarios, editing of roles and responsibilities). In other words, we find a lack of policies and processes in place; lack of awareness amongst faculty and staff; and lack of drilling emergency scenarios.
Issue #4: Lack of Physical Security Measures
Revisiting the concept of an open campus, many independent schools we have assessed pride themselves on the open nature of their campus and actively encourage parents to visit the campus and pop in on their child’s classroom or have lunch with them. Again, Invictus Consulting is not opposed to these practices, but we do think there are ways to encourage an open campus while still protecting the people on campus.
The problem is that many schools approach the concept of an open campus by deliberately not installing gates and fences, not locking building and classroom doors, and allowing unrestricted access to lunchrooms. We believe that there are ways to maintain an open campus tradition while employing modern security methods. Some physical security measures that we find are often lacking include:
- Gates & Fences
- Access Control
Bollards are short vertical posts intended to control vehicular traffic, and they are a simple way to increase security through environmental design. They’re ubiquitous in most people’s daily environment, although many people are unaware of their purpose. Schools that employ bollards can (inexpensively) keep children safe from vehicular traffic on campus while still maintaining an attractive campus.
Gates and fences are another physical security measure we often find lacking at independent schools. While front boundaries of private schools often have ornate iron fencing and gates, we have found that these gates are usually left wide open during the school day and the remainder of the campus is unfenced. Fencing and gates at the entrance to a campus certainly send a signal to the community that the school values security. With that said, fencing only the front of the school gives the school community a false sense of security – with no fencing elsewhere on campus, unauthorized individuals can simply access the campus somewhere other than the front entrance. Wide open gates at the front of the school also allow unauthorized individuals to simply drive on campus.
Cameras are yet another physical security measure we often find lacking at small private schools. Actually, we almost always find that independent schools have some cameras installed; the issue is usually camera coverage (i.e., there are not a sufficient number of cameras or they are pointed in the wrong direction). The other issue we come across frequently is that the cameras that are installed are not being used to the full capability. This is an example of how security can be increased without adding to the budget – by simply using all of the functionality of what is already installed you can greatly improve campus security.
The issue we find with cameras is similar to that which we find with electronic access control. Private schools usually have some form of electronic access control on some of their doors; the issue is that the system is not comprehensive enough and not being used to its full capability. Having electronic access control on the front door of your Lower School is great, but unless you keep all other exterior doors locked, one keycarded door provides little in the way of security. Again, this is an example of improving security without spending money – if your school has electronic access on doors around campus, use these doors as the only points of access to the building; keep other exterior doors locked and funnel all visitors into the door with electronic access control. Using the full functionality of the installed hardware is also another way to improve security without spending money; most independent schools have at least a few doors with electronic access control but the system is simply being used as a glorified (i.e., electronic) lock and key system. Many electronic access control systems have the ability to generate reports about users, sound an alarm if an unauthorized user attempts to gain access, and restrict access to cards that are deactivated, but many school’s we’ve assessed are unaware of these functions. By simply using the functionality of the system, security can be enhanced.
Installing bollards, gates, fences, cameras, and electronic access control does not have to contend with a school’s desire to be open and welcoming, which is the underlying principal of an open campus. The point is to be open and welcoming to those people who are authorized to be on campus while vetting visitors and others seeing to gain entrance to the campus so that the school can keep unauthorized individuals from entering the campus.
Issue # 5: Lack of Appropriately Trained Security Personnel
We have come across many independent schools that have installed security measures like cameras and electronic access control and then simply put their front desk secretaries or their IT guys in charge of the systems. In most cases that we’ve seen, the secretaries and IT people are doing an adequate job with their added duties, but the fact of the matter is that these people have not been trained on the security systems, their proper usage, their capabilities, how to maintain and fix them, and what to do with the data they receive.
For example, we assessed one independent school that had 35 cameras installed around the campus, but they were under the impression that they only had the ability to view 30 at any given time, so they turned various cameras on and off around the campus throughout the day so that they could always view 30 cameras. When we came in to assess this school, our assessor noted that their current CCTV system had the ability to view 36 cameras at any given time. Had the people in charge simply been trained to use the system that was installed, they would have realized that they could view all their cameras without having to go through an elaborate ritual of turning certain cameras on and off throughout the day.
We’ve seen other schools where electronic access control has been installed by the school’s IT person, and while the system functioned in an access control manner (i.e., users needed a card to enter through doors), it did not utilize some of the other functionality possible. In one example, the system had the capability to send an alarm when an unauthorized user tried to gain access or when an access controlled door was propped open, but the way the system had been installed meant that the alarm was merely sounding at the door, not at a centralized security operations area. In other words, the alarms were useless because the only people who could hear the alarms were people directly at or near the door. Had the IT personnel been trained appropriately (and thus installed the system correctly), the system could have functioned as intended and kept the school safer.
Having properly trained security personnel on campus is an important part of keeping the campus secure. Many schools believe that adding security personnel to their staff is cost prohibitive. We usually suggest that schools hire off-duty police officers that can patrol the campus throughout the day – these individuals are trained to deal with security measures like unauthorized individuals on campus, and, more importantly, the liability associated with an off-duty police appointment rests with the agency should that officer have to exercise power.
Off-duty police officers are a good choice for security personnel that patrol the school grounds, but they may not be most appropriate choice for security personnel tasked with using, overseeing, and maintaining the security management systems. Hiring security personnel that have been trained for these tasks is certainly desirable, but we understand that this may not be financially feasible. The imperative thing is to train the staff that will be tasked with using the security management systems and have the systems installed by professionals who will install them correctly and teach you how to use them.
Questions to Ask
Schools that find themselves in the position to upgrade their security systems should first have a risk assessment performed. While it’s important to involve your people in self-analysis and participation in a risk assessment, it’s also important to bring in an unbiased third party consultant to uncover deficiencies and recommend security upgrades.
After a risk assessment has been performed, it is time for the Board of Directors, administrators, and other stakeholders to ask themselves the following questions:
- How do we shift the culture and assure parents that their top concern (the safety of their children) is being addressed?
- How do we effectively ask for money to budget protecting our number one asset?
- How do we effectively implement processes and train and drill faculty, staff, and students?
- How do we design and employ the most effective systems?
- Where and how do we employ additional security personnel and what does that look like?
The issues that we commonly see in independent schools are by no means a sign that a school is failing their faculty, students, and staff. Willingness to improve in this arena is a sign that the administration and the Board have the safety and security of their people as a priority.