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Return to Campus – Positioning Public Safety for Maximum Value

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The New Normal - Getting Ahead of the Higher Ed Budget Crisis

COVID-19’s Projected Impacts on Enrollment and Budgets

As university executives deliberate the merits of when and how to reopen campuses, they’re trying to assess the impact on enrollment and balance the uncertainty of reduced revenues against the overarching need to enhance the health and safety of staff and students. And while much is unknown, one thing we do know is that both enrollment and university budgets are likely to suffer.  Providing increased value and playing a central role in supporting your organization’s return to “normal” as soon as safely possible is a major opportunity for Public Safety and Security Departments.

In a recent survey of University Presidents referenced in the Chronicles of Higher Education, the top three concerns cited about COVID-19’s impacts were: 1) Enrollment (42%); 2) Finance (27%) and 3) Duration of COVID-19 (20%). Kent D. Syverud, Chancellor of Syracuse University summed it up best when he said, “The combination of fear for health and safety and the economic impact at the same time is one that I haven’t experienced, and I don’t think most university leaders have.” 

Strategic Questions to Ask

While Public Safety and Security departments may not be immune to these budget pressures, this is a great time to think beyond the status quo and ask a series of questions to help you prepare for this seismic shift:

  • How can we positively impact the strategic factors the President, Vice Chancellor, COO and Registrar are most concerned with such as student recruitment and retention, reopening campuses for the new academic year, while continuing to protect students and staff who presently remain on campus?
  • How can we identify and help protect other organizations across campus in order to enhance the perception and value our Public Safety team can provide, and break down traditional departmental silos?
  • How are we leveraging and optimizing technology for increased efficiencies?
  • Do we have the right culture and personnel to accomplish what we need to move forward?
  • What other resources (staff, students, technology) can we leverage without increasing costs? How can we make them effective?

Campus pillars

An Opportune Time

Given your Public Safety and Security teams are already being called upon to go beyond their typical roles, now may not appear to be the best time to implement change. But considering safety and security teams are playing a central role with the intrinsic management during this crisis, there’s never been a more opportune time. This is your chance to strategically position your Public Safety and Security teams with key stakeholders and departments across campus, align with the executive committee’s priorities, and emphasize the essential role your team plays in supporting the “business” of the university as you help the organization return to the “new normal”.

And now that university officials are planning when and how they will reopen each campus, the role that Public Safety and Security teams will play is even more critical to the university’s success. This opens up a window of opportunity to think creatively, tap into new resources, leverage technology and break down the traditional siloes across the university. We’ll share more details on this opportunity in the coming weeks but below we focus on how you can enhance the strategic value of your Public Safety and Security team’s across the university.

You’re Not Alone

As you begin to prepare, it’s important to recognize this is not unchartered territory. Throughout this article, we’ll share examples of Public Safety and Security teams across the globe that have tackled these same challenges. They are the thought-leaders that challenged the status quo and used innovation, technology and determination to not only adapt to change, but to effect change. [We’re happy to make introductions to these organizations if you’d like to reach out and explore how they successfully managed this transition.]

Strategic Alignment of Priorities

On a recent IACLEA webinar, Jim Hundrieser, VP Consulting from the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) emphasized senior university leadership’s attention is focused on creating a rich and rewarding student experience to help positively drive the recruitment and retention of students. So how can your campus Public Safety and Security team positively impact these numbers?

Leading by Example

For inspiration on this topic, we turn to Vice President of Public Safety and Chief of Police Mike Davis, at Northeastern University. As you may have heard on the recent IACLEA webinar, Mike has Emergency Management, Public Safety and International Program Safety consolidated under one umbrella. He has also championed the development of close relationships with numerous departments by inviting more and more people from outside his organization to multi-disciplinary teams he leads. As a result, his team’s roots have gone deeper across NU’s organization in areas such as Residences, International Travel helping to look after students traveling abroad, and Health & Safety supporting lone workers doing research in NU’s labs. Overall Mike’s approach is collaborative and he aligns his department’s initiatives with the strategic priorities of the university, with a focus on improving the overall student experience.

For added inspiration, we refer you to Les Allan at Heriot-Watt University. As the Director of Safety, Security & Logistics Services, Les has undergone a complete transformation and modernization of his department, including the execution of a comprehensive and consistent approach across all five global campuses. He’s extended the influence of his aptly named SafeGuarding team by boosting the relationship with the Student Union through added safety measures. Just one example of his cross-disciplinary approach is the use of SafeZone to support Tier 4 visa compliance for international students, for which Heriot-Watt won the  Security & Fire Excellence Awards last year. Les’s team also requires the use of SafeZone for lone workers doing research in the field or conducting experiments in labs on campus.


Using Technology to Do More with Less

When faced with shrinking resources and increased responsibilities, very often the best course forward is to turn to technology for assistance. There are two major opportunities within the spectrum of technology: the first is to derive increased efficiencies from the technology, and the second is an audit or review of technology to look for opportunities to eliminate duplicative functionality or siloed systems in favor of a comprehensive solution.

Texas A&M University-San Antonio_Entrance

First, for inspiration we turn to Texas A&M University-San Antonio (TAMUSA). The SafeZone solution enables A&M-SA police dispatchers and officers on patrol to visualize the precise location of anyone using the service to call for help, anywhere on campus, speeding up response. In addition, both dispatch and mobile officers have complete situational awareness, with the technology letting them see the location of each police officer updated in real time.

Unique Indoor Positioning Solution

With the addition of more multi-story buildings on their campus, TAMUSA recognized the need to obtain more granular information. The SafeZone Indoor Positioning technology they deployed pinpoints the exact floor, wing and room where an alert is triggered, providing a 3D view of where calls for help are raised with the SafeZone App, as well as the location of each officer in that building. This level of accuracy is not offered by other solutions.  Details are available in this case study.

“The moment SafeZone went live, it was the first time the police communications center could accurately view the campus in a 3D environment. With SafeZone’s Indoor Positioning, we’re able to provide a faster response. And whether it’s a medical emergency or an active shooter, seconds save lives.” Roger Stearns, Assistant Chief of Police


lone worker scientist conducts research at university

Higher Ed Institutions are using Indoor Positioning integrated with SafeZone to provide value in a range of areas including:

  • Health and Safety of lone workers in laboratories
  • Safety in high usage areas, such as 24/7 libraries and student union
  • Return to campus with contact tracing and response for exposed individuals and facilities
  • Residences & Dorms

Consolidate Technology to Reduce Costs

As mentioned above, in addition to exploring efficiencies with new technology, it’s equally important to conduct an audit or review of the current technology your Security and Public Safety team and potentially the wider University such as Health & Safety and Emergency Management uses from a myriad of different vendors. Look for overlaps in functionality, systems that are rarely used, vendors that fall short of your team’s expectations, and budget busting prices. Be sure to weigh each service in the context of the overall value and incremental efficiencies or effectiveness it provides to your organization. Most likely, your team can identify at least a few systems that fall short and aren’t maximizing your return on investment. Remember that for each vendor you eliminate, you can realize savings from costs associated with the purchase and procurement of the system, ongoing IT support i.e. upgrades/patches, training and onboarding for new personnel, license fees, integration costs, marketing and engagement programs, duplication of data, etc.

Using Technology to Reduce Costs

Look for Technology That Supports Multiple Functions

Ideally, you can identify one or more vendors that support the needs of multiple departments across the university including Public Safety, Security, Emergency Management, Student Affairs, Health & Safety and Student Wellbeing. For example, why have a public safety application that is not integrated with your dispatch center and/or have an emergency mass notification system separate from your public safety system? You’re looking for solutions that can check multiple boxes, and easily integrate with the other systems you rely upon so you can gain efficiencies.

Through dozens of discussions with our clients across the world, we consistently receive feedback that SafeZone is just such a solution. Les Allan, Director of Safety, Security & Logistics Services at Heriot-Watt University, and incoming President of AUCSO, is among those that endorse this position and has recommended the technology to a number of his peers in the US, Canada and UK.

Align Technology with Enhancing the Student Experience

When possible, search for technology that enhances the university’s ability to boost student wellbeing and if possible, also enhances the student experience. For example, Dan Perry, CIO at Keele University is focused on making his campus fully digital across functions and thus, is planning to leverage Keele’s investment in Indoor Positioning technology by deploying SafeZone’s indoor positioning solution to gain added safety and security functionality. Which brings up one final tip under technology: Public safety and security leaders should search for how their initiatives can serve the needs of other departments that still have budget for new initiatives in order to both address their needs and derive incremental sources of funding.

Aston University COVID-19 Info.

Adding Resources Without Adding Costs

In unprecedented times such as these, you’ll be forced to search for incremental resources to help your team face operational challenges such as the university introducing extended hours as universities spread the “student load” across business hours. Some universities reviewing options such as a split-shift of day/evening hours for classes to accommodate social distancing of students. This places increased pressures on your team to fully staff during day and evening hours.

In addition, every university is going to face scrutiny from parents, students, and their faculty and staff who want  assurances they or their loved ones will be safe on their campus so here’s your chance to help university officials assuage these concerns and solidify your team as part of the solution. As you plan for a new operating model to expand hours and demonstrate the flexibility needed to meet the university’s commitment to duty of care, how can you get more with less? To deal with these pressures, Public Safety and Security teams are searching for a force multiplier to cope with fewer resources and incremental responsibilities and you’ll see below how SafeZone can play this vital role to help your team.

Creating a Volunteer Organization

For inspiration in this area, we look to Chief of Police, Ron Davidson and Deputy Chief of Police Roger Stearns from Texas A&M University-San Antonio (TAMUSA). TAMUSA has a 694 acre campus and 7,000 staff and students, yet only had a few officers available at any point and time for first response. To fill the void, they created a Campus Community Emergency Response Team (C-CERT) comprised of staff and student volunteers. These volunteers are designed to relieve some of the more mundane workload by helping with evacuations, keeping perimeters secure, responding to first aid incidents and passing on critical information.

By tapping into the desire of students who want to be good stewards and reinforcing the community-oriented culture of the university, Ron and Roger developed the program from scratch. Through innovative recruiting, they have grown the CERT volunteers from zero to 32, incentivizing them with training and full involvement in emergency drills and important events such as graduation ceremonies. Roger plans to take a similar approach to introduce  a new Law Enforcement Explorers program.

safeZone Integrated security solution

Enhancing Staff & Volunteer Safety with SafeZone

Best of all, TAMUSA used SafeZone to create a sub-group of all the C-CERT volunteers, so the dispatcher can view their real-time position and more quickly deploy the right people where they’re needed. Roger Stearns said, “We’ve been using this technology for over a year and it has made a major difference to our situational awareness and our command and control ability. It’s been an important tool, allowing us to get to incidents more quickly (medical emergencies are typical cases).” As an added bonus, the creation of the C-CERT volunteer program has made Public Safety an intrinsic part of the student experience at TAMUSA.

Changing the Culture

For illustration, we look to Claire Humble, Head of Security at Teesside University in the UK. To create strategic alignment. Claire recognized the need to change the culture of her department; changes included rebranding her team and an emphasis on face-to-face interactions with training to emphasize enhancing the student experience by proactively helping and supporting students. She positioned her team to act as brand ambassadors for all visitors, newcomers, contractors, alumni and of course, students and staff. Claire then leveraged the SafeZone Command technology to monitor patrol patterns and ensure her team was covering critical areas across campus. She also used SafeZone to monitor all safety and security personnel, as well as first-aiders and fire marshals at all times so her team could respond up to 50% faster, enhancing their effectiveness for a wide range of incidents.

Teesside University_ISB Survey_International Students
International students put Teesside University at the top in satisfaction survey

Marketing to Prospective Students

Claire recognized the importance of educating prospective students about how Teesside University was unique and students would be safe in this urban setting. To address this, she met with student recruiters and initiated a new orientation program during student tours and orientation, with a focus on international students who rank safety as the #2 factor in their decision to select a university. She has used technology to encourage students to protect themselves and their peers by using the SafeZone app. This has helped create a culture of safety and community amidst the Teesside student body which further enhances the student experience.

The results speak for themselves.  After initially ranking in the 70th percentile for safety in the 2019 International Student Barometer (ISB) global survey, Teesside’s rankings for safety vaulted to 10th in the most recent survey among UK universities, and best of all, they ranked Teesside number one in the UK for overall average student satisfaction, according to an influential survey. The University is delighted that students feel safer and more secure on campus, as international students are a much valued part of the university’s diverse student community.

You Can Do This

Sometimes in the face of daunting challenges, we revert to analysis paralysis and struggle to take the necessary steps to move forward. We hope that after reviewing this blog you can see there’s a clear formula for the path forward that consists of aligning your priorities with those of the university, driving cultural change, embracing technology and reaching across the aisle. By following this approach that many of your peers have successfully executed, you can implement change, add strategic value, and most importantly take control of your department’s future.

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