Home > Event Management, TechNews > Reflections on the Massacre

Reflections on the Massacre

All of us at 4A and SecurityDreamer send our deepest condolences to
the families of the students lost at Virginia Tech this
week. Such destruction of life is among the most horrible experiences a
society can suffer — and it begs the question of how much security is
enough.

A few million dollars could have put security measures in place to
limit the deaths and injuries drastically. Of course, any university
board of governors or student body that had a sufficiently low
tolerance for risk would support the funding. Prior to the incident
this week, I would have described most university campuses as having an
open atmosphere and a fairly high tolerance of risk.

I think that a campus can be secured in a way that preserves the
openness and sense of freedom. Security should always address the
perceived risk while preserving the group’s lifestyle as much as
possible. That is because the primary mission of security is to protect
life and quality of life.

A university campus security director told me a few weeks ago that
students complained a few years ago about the handful of security
cameras he had just installed, but after a series of muggings on
campus, the students complained that there was not enough security. The
students were not being flaky. They were demonstrating an important
principle in security: the level of apparent security should match the
perception of risk. Notice that I didn’t say that security should
simply correlate to risk.

The best security posture is one that displays security sufficient
to satisfy the “feeling of security” needed by the population it
protects, while surreptitiously preparing for all significant measured
risks. By that I mean that the security department of any organization
may be aware of and concerned with threats like the possibility of a
gunman on campus, but “obvious” protections against that threat are not
in the face of the protected population every day.

How does an organization prepare for significant threats but not
show it? By collecting and analyzing security information, then
responding to that information in efficient ways. Security information
comes from many sources, but the tools to process and analyze it are
straightforward: video analytics and the technologies of physical
security information management (PSIM).

There will no doubt be knee-jerk spending on security measures in
the coming days and weeks as universities respond to their
constituents’ desire for more apparent security. But I hope
universities as well as all government and corporate campuses use this
devastating reminder to use the information of security more
effectively.

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Categories: Event Management, TechNews
  1. April 18, 2007 at 8:24 am

    We also express our deep condolences to those affected by this tragedy.
    Having worked with many Universities on securing campuses and related facilities, it is unlikely that the desire for an “open” environment will ever fully subside, particularly around academic buildings. That said, many universities – particularly the larger ones – are vigilent in securing the residence halls and other private areas on campus, through access control, cctv (and analytics), student monitors and other physical controls. Those that don’t currently will certainly re-evaluate their controls in the near future.
    We always recommend at least three levels of control required to access a dorm room. Sometimes that’s not practical, but usually effective. There’s no telling if it would have stopped this situation, but the presence of cctv may have given the police visual evidence of the suspect, which may have helped in their pursuit (remember they found a “person of interest” who turned out to be the wrong person).
    Unfortunately this week’s events highlights the incredible burden placed on university police and security personnel. Preventing a mass casualty event from occurring in an open environment is extremely difficult. VT’s administration is taking heavy criticsm for their response after the first incident – perhaps rightfully – but the fact is that they made a decision based on the facts they had at the time.
    I’m not defending them. A dual mass-casualy event on a college campus is unprecedented. It’s unlikely that their emergency response procedures even mentioned the likelihood of this occurrance.
    I could write for days on this topic. I think, however, it all comes down to Universities’ policies and procedures for notifying students and faculity in a crisis situation, and having the technology in place to support them. Emails (which in my mind are minimally effective), text messaging, reverse 911, voice evac systems, public address – there are many options.
    I believe Code Blue recently announced an integration with reverse 911, in which their emergency phones would act as a makeshit public address system. In an emergency, emergency phone lights would flash and police dispatch could announce instructions via the emergency telephone system. Again, not an end-all solution, but a step in the right direction.

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