When most Canadian students venture off to college or university, on-campus security is one of the last things on their mind. Studying, gaining the skills to build a meaningful career and developing important social networks and potential future business contacts—not to mention the odd party here are there—tend to top their priority list.
That’s why it’s incumbent on the administrators and managers of post-secondary institutions to take security seriously, even if their students don’t. While most Canadian campuses are remarkably safe, incidents still occur. From a night of drinking gone awry to sexual assaults, students and staff can be particularly vulnerable targets, for a variety of reasons.
The first has to do with age and inexperience. Most students are relatively young, and many are living away from home for the first time—in some cases in a large, far-away town or city. They don’t necessarily fully understand or address the risks before them. Being ‘street smart’ is a skill learned over time through experience. Second, would-be predators often gravitate towards campuses simply due to the prevalence of potential targets. Security threats abound.
The good news is that most colleges and universities do a good job protecting their students, even if gaps persist. In particular in the #MeToo era, with the increased focus on preventing sexual violence both on-campus and off, we need to do more to ensure that Canadians can live on campuses or attend classes in the safest environment possible.
At Wincon Security, we’ve been providing on-campus security services for the entirety of our 25-year history. Our systems continue to evolve to include the newest and most effective security techniques, while our embrace of technology as an integrated solutions provider has allowed us to introduce cutting-edge equipment to the benefit of our post-secondary partners.
There are still many colleges and universities, however, that haven’t embraced a proactive, comprehensive approach to security. If yours falls into that category, here are four steps you should take now to better secure your campus:
Set smart policies—Each campus and student body are different, so a one-size-fits-all security approach is bound to fail. Customize your strategy to suit everything from your collegiate culture to geographic realities. If yours is a sprawling campus that hasn’t yet introduced a buddy system where students (or student volunteers) are made available to walk their peers to and from class at nighttime, consider that simple policy change an important and simple first step to improving campus security. In addition, take the time to review policies for on-campus alcohol consumption—perhaps limiting the duration of sanctioned parties or events, for example—which can be a common cause of security-related challenges. Whatever the tactics that work best in your particular circumstance, save the theoretical discussions for philosophy class and take action now to develop and implement effective, practical policies that address your school’s unique needs.
Improve on-campus lighting and landscaping—This is a tactic that any commercial or residential property owner can leverage, but it’s one that’s particularly important for universities and colleges. Put simply, dark places overgrown with foliage are the perfect hiding spot for nefarious characters. By trimming hedges back and creating clear sightlines, security professionals have a much better chance of catching bad guys before they can cause harm to students and faculty. While improved LED lighting delivers illuminating security benefits, it also gives an aesthetic boost to a gloomy campus. In other words, it’s a worthwhile investment in a variety of ways.
Leverage technology—From high-tech cameras to advanced biometrics, many colleges and universities have already made significant investments in the latest and greatest security technologies. But more can be done to ensure safety. We’ve seen organizations glean major benefits from the introduction of tools such as facial-recognition software to help identify criminals caught on camera after an incident has occurred. We’ve also seen schools tap advanced artificial intelligence algorithms to highlight areas of potential risk. Some schools are even using drones and robots to patrol campuses. All of these tools cost money to introduce, of course, so if they haven’t already, safety-conscious institutions should start budgeting now to upgrade their security infrastructure.
Hire trained staff—Whether your college or university hires and manages its own security staff or outsources the task to a third-party security provider, it’s imperative that security personnel are trained and experienced in the unique aspects of protecting a campus, both inside and outside of its many buildings. Look to hire a security firm with a comprehensive training program and ask about its employee turnover rates. While staff churn is high in the security business, if the firm admits that it turns over most of its staff every year, it can be a sign of mismanagement and could pose business service continuity challenges. In addition, having trained security staff will help bolster a shared culture of safety where students can rest easy knowing that those assigned to ensure their protection not only understand the importance of their role, but are equipped to do the job right.
Winston Stewart, President and CEO