Boarding School Security Series – Part 3

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Screen Shot 2014-12-02 at 9.31.26 AMSecurity – Heads or Tails?

Security is like a coin with two distinctly different sides – heads and tails. I refer to the heads side of the coin as “prevention”. I call the tail side of the coin “investigation”. Naturally, we all hope to be able to prevent bad things from happening, but this is not always the case. Sometimes the coin of circumstance turns up tails and you suddenly find yourself faced with an investigation. Is your private boarding school security staffed and equipped for investigation?

I have been a licensed private investigator for the past 25 years, so I have an investigative mindset. Some might think investigation has little to do with security, but it does! The reason many people hire private investigators is because they don’t feel secure. They pay us because of their own insecurity. If your school is confronted with a serious crime, I can assure you that the faculty, staff and students are going to struggle with a sense of security until they get some key answers.

The type of occurrences you could encounter may vary widely, but the questions will almost always be the same. It comes down to these four basic questions. Who did this? Why did they do it? Could they do it again? What are we going to do to prevent this from happening again? This might seem like an over-simplification of what people want to know. It’s not. This is precisely what people hope to lean from law enforcement professionals or the private investigators they subsequently hire.

I realize that most private boarding schools do not have the resources to staff their security team with retired FBI, ATF and CIA operatives. However, you should be looking for a security chief who is comfortable with both sides of the coin – prevention and investigation. The reason that many security directors have law enforcement backgrounds is because of their experience with investigations and investigative procedures. If you are interviewing someone for security, talk about investigation skills.

If your school is not yet vested in trained and experienced investigators, I suggest that you consider equipping your school with the investigative tools and technology that experienced investigators can use if you need outside help. This suggestion is a recurring theme in my blogs because I know what I would be looking for if I came to your school as a licensed private investigator or police detective. We all need evidence and leads to work with, otherwise we won’t be able to answer the four key questions.

Teaching the Art of Vigilance in a Culture of Trust

If I were asked to offer the one single term in the world of security which is most important to me, it would be the word vigilance. Why? This is because vigilance is our natural, human response to every security breach or threat we experience. A heightened level of awareness is inherently woven into our survival instinct. We become more alert, conscious and ever-vigilant when we feel threatened. This is a good thing. Right? Oh, you must be from a private school!

Most private schools are deeply rooted in a culture of trust. Character is sculpted from the stone of honor and discipline. Our private schools are also seen as safe havens where peace and security are the gold standard – where a student should have no reason to worry as they focus their entire being on education and personal growth. Now, let’s combine the art of vigilance and threat readiness with the private school culture of trust and see what happens. We get confusion.

As the Director of Security for a private boarding school, it is my job to keep the faculty, students and staff feeling safe in their campus environment. Professionally, I understand the best way to accomplish true safety and security is to have everyone keeping a watchful eye for suspicious activity. For this to be effective, I must convince everyone that a wide spectrum of risks and threats are a very real possibility. At the same time, I need to convince everyone that their safety and security on our campus is assured.

If your school is dedicated to teaching life skills, I would suggest you add vigilance to your curriculum. It can be taught through campus security efforts. It may not help your students score higher on their SAT’s, but it will be immensely helpful as they try to navigate their way around our dangerous world. Personal security is a global responsibility. Teaching students to recognize and react to their suspicious instincts is an absolute necessity to survive the ever-evolving threats in today’s society.

Your school is only as safe as you will allow it to be. I realize it is not easy to set aside some of the care free, it-won’t-happen-here attitudes that seem justified because nothing has ever happened there. I’m also not a fan of security history as an explanation for a lack of readiness. Your campus is either ready or it is not. Your inhabitants are either vigilant of they are not. True campus security is a journey, not a destination. It is my hope that you don’t allow trust to trump vigilance as you move forward.

Randal S. Doaty is the Director of Security at The Hill School in Pottstown, PA.

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