Boarding School Security Series – Part 1

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Screen Shot 2014-12-02 at 9.31.26 AMRandal S. Doaty is the Director of Security at The Hill School in Pottstown, PA. He served as a municipal police officer for 13 years attaining the rank of Chief of Police. Randy currently maintains a private investigation license and has offered a broad spectrum of security and investigative services for the past 25 years. He is very familiar with the private school culture, having been the parent of a boarding school student and a member of the Board of Trustees at The Perkiomen School in Pennsburg, PA. Randy has also served as a keynote speaker at TABS and other school security events.

Take a BC Approach To Security

Attitudes about security are defined by a distinct point in time. I refer to them BC and AD. They reference a single point when everything changes in an instant – when nothing will ever be the same! The age known as BC refers to the time Before the Crisis. The age that immediately follows BC is known as AD – or After the Disaster. In the blink of an eye, your independent boarding school could find themselves thrust into the year 1 AD, and what a wild time it will be.

Security and safety investments are a calculated risk. Does your school wager on the notion that what happens elsewhere will probably not happen here? Many do. This may appear to be a safe bet when year after year your wagers are correct. You may feel as if you have been awarded all of the money that has not been spent on security manpower, tools and technology. In retrospect, these funds may appear better invested in your school’s true focus – a quality private boarding school experience.

Our sense of security is often based upon recent history. As long as nothing happens, we feel secure. The entire boarding school community has ample reason to feel safe. To date, most of the school catastrophes in this country have occurred in public schools or college settings. The spotlight of school safety has not shined the same upon our boarding school community. Should this ever happen, some things our public school counterparts have experienced will be the same, but others will be uniquely different.

Sadly, all schools lose the precious lives of the unfortunate victims. They also lose an atmosphere of innocence, safety and security. However, the major difference between a private school and a public school disaster is the fact that we are consumer based institutions. Attendance at our schools is both a privledge and a consumer’s conscious choice. For most boarding schools, the topic of school security is not currently the central theme or concern. This can all change in an instant!

You might think this blog was written by a security company trying to sell you the latest tools and technology based upon fear. In fact, it was written by a boarding school security director who believes that your money should be spent wisely BC – not wasted in an AD spending frenzy. A deliberate and measured investment in you school’s security tools and philosophies is an absolute necessity. In my coming blogs, I will discuss how your boarding school can start taking some reasonable steps towards improved security.

Protection Through Collection

Prevention is often the main purpose behind a school’s investment in their security program. It is understandable to want to avoid the devastating effects of crime or a school disaster. Sadly, not all threats are deterred by even the most elaborate security efforts. Should disaster strike, a very important question that many will raise after the unthinkable occurs is – “now what”?

If you are designing a boarding school security program, you would be wise to consider what will happen after an incident. Most schools believe that the matter is out of their control and it now becomes the responsibility of law enforcement authorities to solve the crime. To some extent this is true, but it overlooks a very important fact. An independent boarding school is deeply vested in the outcome of their case – much more than public schools.

Law enforcement agencies across the country are already overrun with criminal cases. Although your case is the most important thing on your mind, it is often only one of a file drawer of cases that requires their investigative attention. One thing will give your case priority over all of the other cases. I call this thing “investigative traction”. Investigators need leads and clues to follow. When the leads dry up, the investigator is just spinning his wheels and will likely moves on to another case with leads.

It might seem unfair to suggest that it is your responsibility as a private boarding school to provide law enforcement authorities with the leads and evidence they will need to solve your case. Fairness isn’t your biggest problem. You are a consumer based educational institution and you would be wise to consider the impact upon your business. A comprehensive security program anticipates the need to collect valuable data for future investigations. Your security program needs to be collection minded, otherwise your crime just might turn into a cold case file.

The security industry now offers incredible video, GPS and data collection systems that store, sort and analyze valuable information like never before. However, this is just one component of a good security plan. Are you worried how it will look? Much of this new technology can also be blended into the landscaping and architecture without making your campus look like a fortress. As you assess your security needs, remember to add data collection to your security planning checklist.

We Are In This Together

The security industry is big business. You can be sure security service providers see big dollar signs when they look at a private boarding school as a potential customer. A quick look at tuition rates and your beautiful campus, and they assume the money you have to spend is limitless. Now, the salespeople just need to decide the very best approach to get you to buy what they are selling!

Spending money on security is like spending money on groceries. If you go shopping without a list, you are likely to come home with more than you wanted and not everything you need. You need a plan. If you are in the private boarding school business, you may not have an extensive background in security system planning or be up to date on the latest practices, tools and technologies. You should seek help from professionals and recommendations from peer schools.

My first recommendation to you is to avoid having the same person who is trying to sell you security gadgets, be the same person who is assessing your security needs. This is a salesperson’s dream come true! You should consider paying an independent consultant to assess your security needs and better understand your goals in order to engineer the security program that will be best suited for your school.

The next thing that you need to consider is whether your security consultant understands the private boarding school culture. Providing security for a public school is a far cry from providing security for a boarding school where students and faculty live in a community setting. If your security consultant does not have experience in the private boarding school setting, think twice.

With approximately 350 independent boarding schools across the country, you also have plenty of other places to obtain recommendations. You are not alone. Each one of these schools faces threats and worries that are unique to the boarding school world. We are in this together. This is the reason I chose to write these blogs – to offer my fellow security directors and sister school my thoughts and perspectives on boarding school security. I hope you join with me in this dialog.

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