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A Difficult Conversation About Campus Safety

Posted on Jul 11, 2018 7:20:00 AM

iStock-834582368We’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, the definition of futility is knowing the definition of insanity and doing nothing about it. We want to apply that concept to a serious topic that’s weighing on a lot of minds today: campus safety. 

For the sake of being open, this is an incredibly complex and nuanced issue with an emotional and heated debate occurring throughout the country. While we think there should be an ongoing discussion about the best way to provide an actual solution on many levels, the only angle we want to discuss today is the technological campus safety solutions that schools are implementing to mitigate loss and damage during an active threat. The truth is that our control over others’ actions is limited, but we can (and should) do our best to control the precautions and planning necessary to prevent others from causing harm. Regardless of your position on the political aspects of the situation, isn’t protecting our students and staff what’s most important?

Let’s discuss campus safety solutions for a second. It makes sense to start with the definition of a solution. This is something we’ve written about in the past, but it’s worth another mention. Schools often consider a solution to be a list of stuff that’s been procured, delivered, and plugged in. That’s a bad way to view any technology solution, but it’s actually dangerous for something as important as campus safety. A solution solves a problem. Campus safety solutions should make campuses safer and more secure. No one type of technology will make that happen.

Case in point: in one recent horrific and tragic attack that led to the deaths of several small children, the school had recently undergone an access control implementation, but installers didn’t consider that the intruder could break the glass next to the door and override the system. One heartbreaking aspect of the story is that externally it appears as though there was a primary focus on buying “stuff” and not enough focus on building solutions with effective safety plans for active threats in an effort to create a truly safe environment.

We’re not saying this school or its leaders necessarily did anything wrong; they likely did the best they could with the resources they had and followed the pattern of countless other districts. They didn’t think about the windows next to the locked doors that unintentionally provide easy access to students who are in lockdown. They likely didn’t have a partner to conduct an independent assessment and look at the entire ecosystem of campus safety.

Part of the challenge is that many solutions should ideally operate on an Op-Ex model, but school districts are more easily able to obtain funding on a Cap-Ex basis, which usually constitutes buying a list of stuff. This is ineffective if it can’t be integrated, maintained, and adopted properly. Districts often lack the ability to spend additional funds after the initial purchase, so they can run into issues if there isn’t adequate up-front planning. The typical result: IT continues to be viewed as a black hole cost center, which creates a vicious cycle in which major objectives aren’t met and our children are still at risk.

Let us say this again: the way we purchase technology is actively putting students at riskThe RFPs that are written to procure the technology are grossly inadequate when it comes to success criteria and strategy. This oversight results in disparate, unsustainable systems that present major challenges in emergency situations

Additionally, it's time to add and prioritize focus to reaction and not just prevention. Hope isn’t an effective strategy. It's time to quit hoping that laws will stop anyone who's consciously determined that human life has no value; it’s time to acknowledge the harsh reality that it can happen anywhere to anyone. We need to put a priority on solutions that help get people to safety as quickly as possible (while simultaneously coordinating with first responders).

Ultimately, many discussions are still needed. Our main goal is to shift some of  the topics of those conversations toward aspects that we as administrators, superintendents, and technology leaders have control over. We can control how we strategize, prepare for, and carry out plans to minimize risk, limit damage, and positively influence actual campus safety instead of relying on a list of stuff to do it for us.

Get started by checking out this short video. DGI Vice President, Jason Eatmon, explains some commonly-overlooked aspects of campus safety here! 

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