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Human Resources

Safe and Sound

<em>The role of HR in enhancing campus safety</em>
University Business, Mar 2008

ONE OF THE EARLIEST INCIDENTS of deadly campus violence happened on August 1, 1966, when Charles Whitman opened fire from the Texas Tower at <b>The University of Texas at Austin</b>, killing 16 people and injuring 31 others. Since then, there have been more than 200 deaths from murders, suicides, or shootings on college and university campuses nationwide.

Until 2000, such incidents have occurred usually no more than once a year and sometimes every other year. But since the new millennium, the number of annual episodes has soared. There were three in 2000, four in 2001, 10 in 2002 and 2004, three in 2006, and four last year. News reports often revealed missed or ignored warning signs by school counselors, faculty, or students, making people wonder if anyone can ever be safe at what used to be one of the safest places in town.

HR's involvement is a
symbol of commitment to
a comprehensive approach
on safety and security.

Safety is certainly not just the responsibility of campus security or police anymore. This is one area where human resources staff need to cross professional boundaries and work side by side with other departments, including campus security. Whether serving on a committee that identifies troubled individuals or coordinating employee safety workshops, HR leaders and staff need to get involved in building a culture of awareness and preparedness.

But some schools are flunking. Vincent Bove, a security educator in Short Hills, N.J., has worked with more than 100 higher ed institutions across the country. He says some IHEs aren't getting this message and have short-term memories, leaving security-related issues exclusively to campus security or police. Bad idea.

"Violence is continuing to escalate and we're not taking it seriously enough," Bove says. "My experience is that HR is not at all involved as they should be. HR must be part of the solution."

Many schools offer minimal staff training as a legal Band-Aid to protect themselves from potential lawsuits. However, much more is needed. For instance, Bove says IHEs must establish a threat assessment team that includes representatives from HR and other departments. Such a team would evaluate and respond to all red flags in order to prevent, mitigate, or minimize potential problems.

Training must also be ongoing and comprehensive for employees and students-not a once-a-year piecemeal program. For example, Bove conducts mandatory security awareness workshops for every incoming freshman at <b>Saint Peter's College</b> (N.J.).

"If we're going to be serious about making our college campuses safe, then we have the authority to require that our students are involved in the process," says Bove. "Training must be ongoing, include students, and be done with a real sense of urgency, vigilance, and collaboration."

Shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks, <b>Princeton University</b> formed an emergency preparedness task force that included HR. The vice president of HR is still a member of the team's senior level policy subcommittee that deals with emergency management, says Steven Healy, director of public safety at the university, which supports approximately 5,200 employees and more than 7,000 students.

Not only does HR's involvement ensure that personnel issues are being considered-such as how employees will continue to be paid during emergencies-but it's also a symbol of the institution's commitment, from the top level down, to a comprehensive approach on safety and security, adds Healy, who is also the immediate past president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (

But not all campus cultures or even HR professionals embrace this holistic approach. Instead of advocating for a more inclusive role, they can become passive observers, believing campus safety and security is someone else's job. This may not only be irresponsible but also dangerous.

Healy says campus safety and security demand HR's attention. This should start with the hiring process. How is HR driving policies related to background checks, reference checks, grievance procedures, and even mediation, which mitigate the chances of people acting out because they believe they've been mistreated? Are employees being trained to respond to threatening phone calls, restraining orders, and other potentially dangerous situations?

While hard to believe, one problem Healy sometimes encounters among HR professionals is the "It won't happen here" syndrome. Others blame their lack of involvement on confidentiality, believing they will violate some state or federal law if they reveal information about a person's behavior or participate in threat assessments or treatment management. Healy compares confidentiality to a bubble. Since security and HR are part of that same bubble, the departments can exchange information for security or safety purposes.

From training managers as mediators to educating all employees about grievance procedures, there are a number of ways HR can help enhance campus safety.

"The most important way is by being an advocate for sound policies, procedures, and a culture that creates a respectful workplace," Healy says. "Whatever HR can do as an entity to create that type of atmosphere contributes to overall safety and security."

No matter how small a college or university is, it has some process for identifying and reporting potentially threatening or violent behavior. Some schools offer an online system where employees can anonymously report blatant threats, bizarre activity, or uncomfortable behavior.

Two years ago, HR and the public safety department brought MySafeCampus (, an online incident reporting system, to <b>Wartburg College</b> (Iowa). It offers students and employees an additional outlet to share security concerns, says Jane Juchems, HR director.

The school's 400 employees and 1,800 students can use the confidential, anonymous system to report a wide variety of crimes, such as hazing, vandalism, domestic violence, harassment, sexual offenses, hate crimes, and discrimination. The public safety department initially reviews them all. If the complaint is employee related, then HR is brought into the picture.

"We like to think we're a totally safe place, but we don't want to be naive," Juchems says, adding that fewer than one dozen complaints have been reported so far. "We don't want people to bottle up their concerns. ... If people aren't sharing what they observe, we aren't going to be solving problems."

Since security and HR are
part of the same confidentiality
"bubble," they can
exchange information for
security or safety purposes.

Juchems also meets every quarter with the college's risk management director and the school's insurance broker to identify new security-related tools and discuss best practices introduced by other schools. In fact, she says the website was the broker's idea. His company even pays the website's monthly service fee.

HR departments at other schools carve out time during new hire orientations to address security and safety, and they require all employees to complete a crash course in emergency preparedness.

A good example is <b>Monroe Community College</b> (N.Y.). Besides learning about the school's security policies and procedures during new employee orientations, its 1,441 employees must also participate in a 90-minute workshop that presents in-depth information about the college's emergency preparedness plan and how to access it on the web. Likewise, they learn what to do and whom to call if violence erupts, how to deal with different shooter scenarios, and how to survive violent encounters whether they happen at school, in a mall, or a church, says Lee Struble, director of public safety. "A lot of colleges just don't have that commitment from HR in their orientation programs," he says.

Several years ago, HR and public safety leaders at Monroe trained about 30 full-time faculty and staff to become mediators. In addition, the school's new campuswide campaign focuses on student civility. Although it was launched by the public safety department and the college's counseling center, which falls under the student services umbrella, the HR director still serves on the campaign's committee.

The campaign's goal is to change the campus's climate by building a culture of respect. Struble says if the school's 34,000 students respect each other, they'll be less angry and less inclined to become violent. The same holds true for faculty. Do professors treat students with respect?

The committee recently conducted campuswide focus groups and a campus survey. What they learned was surprising. Students requested standardization for acceptable student behavior and classroom management. For instance, if a student's cell phone rings during class, should the instructor ignore it, allowing the student's conversation to disrupt the entire class, or enforce a classroom policy that bans cell phone usage during class?

The committee is in the midst of reviewing all survey and student responses and will offer recommendations to the college's senior administration. Struble suspects one suggestion will involve HR's training faculty on what student behaviors will and won't be tolerated in the classroom and how to effectively deal with intimidating students like those who make violent threats or act out in class.

Although the HR office already has a range of responsibilities, supporting or enhancing the efforts of campus security must rank high on the to-do list. There's really no compromise for employee safety.

"Most HR [professionals] are open to it, but others put safety on the back burner," says Struble. "If you can get an HR director to realize that security and safety are important, that's the biggest nut to crack."

<em>Carol Patton is a Las Vegas-based freelance writer who specializes in covering HR topics.</em>