A Brief Look at Recent School and Campus Risk Management Efforts

As school and campus safety and security develops into what it needs to be, school and campus risk management, there are some positive signs and egregious misunderstandings. As most security practitioners know, school and campus risk management has been behind the power curve for decades.  Recent high visibility events have started to change this, and governments have opened budgets and made disciplinary actions a common thread in addressing the issues. Some districts and colleges have taken it upon themselves to improve their ability to proactively address the changing threat landscape. However, in many cases, the use of funds and the resulting approaches are still lacking effectiveness and seem to be superficial. In fact, most school districts and states still don’t have a risk management framework to support education and safety/security. 

The main challenge facing schools (especially public schools) is the lack of subject matter expertise, resources, and a security approach that lacks vision or risk management context. Making this worse is the fact that most schools are either completely or partially dependent on law enforcement or first responders to deal with emerging high impact threats and crisis. The resources issue is being partially placated by the grants and government money pouring in, but this new found capital is being misspent and allocated blindly without strategic risk management approaches. The expertise limitation is also being partially solved as schools bring in experts from all over to teach everything from active shooter, to first aid, to escape and evasion. Other schools have resorted to hotlines and crowd sourced apps to help them get ahead of threats. Some have beefed up psychological monitoring while others go back to the old and failed playbook of spending budgets on hardening and physical security. The bad news is that none of these efforts will actually prevent another tragedy or even improve security by any demonstrable amount. 

The usual methods of school safety and security just don’t work anymore or have unintended consequences. Tip lines don’t get enough participation and are prone to false alarm and disruption, and physical security has detrimental effects on students and environment without significantly increasing security. Hiring more psychologists doesn’t overcome the early warning and monitoring deficit, and advanced security training is often wasted and of limited use in every day security and risk management cases. Safe spaces, bullet proof glass, and hardened doors are not helping us stay ahead of or understand emerging threats.  Schools continue to rely on first responders and law enforcement and lack in house experience in security and risk management save for a security manager or borrowed school resource officer. Worse of all, schools rarely have comprehensive risk management plans that cover the allocation of resources, goals, and supporting architectures. So schools go in with a fragmented plan involving training, hotlines, more personnel, and physical security, but forget to analyze what they are doing and for what return on investment. 

Until schools follow an intelligence driven and risk management approach (ESRM) like most competent large companies do, there will continue to be gaps and blind stabs at improved security outcomes. Monitoring, multi-source intelligence, technology, strategic plans, and comprehensive cultural inclusion are necessary to improve the situation. This must be coupled with the right architecture, organization, and communication pathways to execute those plans. Some law enforcement agencies are making schools and campuses more of a priority in their GSOCS, but this should have happened years ago, and law enforcement shouldn’t be the only ones on the hook. The interaction between law enforcement, first responders, and competent school risk management officials must be strengthened. The push for student and staff involvement is on the uptick but we can’t rely on hotlines and self-reporting mechanisms to work by themselves. The data must be part of a holistic risk picture with multiple sources and vetting. Once schools start taking a business intelligence approach to their own risk management, not only will incidents decrease, but security and safety programs will become more mature, efficient, and effective.  

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