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In the years since the killings at Virginia Tech, colleges and universities around the country have taken many steps to prevent mass shootings on campus. Those strategies represent an emerging set of best practices for emergency preparedness. Although those measures cover a broad range of emergencies, not just shootings, it is the risk of shootings that has made emergency preparedness a high priority in colleges and universities. And each time another incident occurs, campus facility and security managers have to look again for new ways to protect students, staff and visitors.
An important early step in preparing a crisis response plan is to develop a list of possible events that could hit the campus, such as natural disasters, burglaries and violent attacks, says Gary Margolis, managing partner with Margolis Healy & Associates. Of course, the total often can top several dozen. No school has the resources to prevent every potential threat, so it's important to focus on those that are most likely to occur or inflict significant harm.
Margolis advises looking at potential security and safety events from the perspectives of vulnerability, impact and probability. For instance, how vulnerable is the campus to a tornado? Can its vulnerability be reduced by fortifying the buildings on campus?
The next step is to look at the possible impact of each threat. Clearly, tornados or school shootings typically have a greater impact than, say, a stolen laptop. On the other hand, the probability that a laptop will be stolen during any school year exceeds the likelihood that a more serious incident will occur. The idea is to complete this analysis for the entire list of potential threats, ranking each and developing plans for events that hit certain thresholds.
Because facilities professionals typically spend time in all areas of a campus, they usually have a good idea of who typically comes and goes, and at what times. As a result, they often are among the first to notice situations that appear out of the ordinary. "They can be the eyes and ears of the institution, and that can be invaluable," Margolis says.