THE MAGAZINE

Truth and Consequences

By Mary Lynn Garcia, CPP

High school
 
The Sandia team was asked to assess security at a 1,200-student high school in an ethnically diverse middle-class neighborhood in a medium-sized Midwest city. Traditionally, administrators had given little specific thought to school security. The closest thing to an analysis of threats was awareness among the school’s administrators of problems that affected other schools, such as shootings, theft, and graffiti. The only discernible security measures in place were such procedural mechanisms as faculty/administrative oversight of students via hall monitoring and other means.
 
In light of a series of school shootings and other violence throughout the country—which has taken place in all sorts of towns and cities in school districts in various socioeconomic strata—the school decided it was time for improved security measures. Working with a supplier, the administration decided to install many new cameras throughout the campus, from corridors to stairwells to parking lots. Live monitoring of video was not feasible, but the cameras were to be recorded in a secure central room. The thinking was that the cameras were a broadbrush solution to preventing a wide array of crimes.
 
Before actually going through with the camera installation as recommended by the supplier, the school asked Sandia to look at its security. When the Sandia team visited the school, it found that the school’s plan to add cameras was not based on any coherent analysis of the threats, assets, and possible consequences at the particular school. In fact, the school had not considered at all how the system would accomplish the school’s security goals.
 
Sandia then sat down with administrators and conducted a risk assessment and consequence analysis. This involved touring the property and interviewing administrators about the types of problems they had had and solutions tried in the past. The team asked many other open-ended questions about policies and procedures at the facility.
 
Sandia then helped the school rank several threats in terms of probability and consequence. For example, discussions with the school administration showed that a student-precipitated shooting incident would be a high-consequence but low-probability event. By contrast, student drug use, which was on the rise, was rated as high consequence and medium probability. Theft of valuable school property, such as musical instruments, by students and outsiders was rated as a medium-consequence, but low probability.
 
The administration also knew of cases in which noncustodial parents had come to the school to pick up their children without the custodial parent’s permission, a form of abduction. This risk was ranked as a medium-consequence, medium-probability (it was ranked only as medium-consequence because the parents had no intention of harming the child, just regaining custody).
 
At the lowest consequence level were theft of personal property, which was medium-probability, and incidents of graffiti and vandalism, which were fairly common at the school and were rated high-probability. As low-consequence events, the latter two threats, though likely, would receive the least of security’s precious resources.
 
The analysis showed that by far the most significant threats, though not the most likely ones, were school shootings and student drug use, followed by kidnapping. These types of incidents, if they occurred, would pose a risk for the school’s most valuable assets: its students and staff.
 
With this matrix in place, a plan was developed that would reduce the risk from these high-consequence events (shootings, drug use, and kidnappings), while likely also making it harder for the more common, but lower risk threats, such as vandalism to occur. The plan included targeted camera placement, tighter access controls, and security identification. For drug use, counseling was favored over security.
 
Camera placement. The camera placements were reevaluated. The original plan had called for placing perhaps 100 cameras in doorways, hallways, and other high-volume areas. It was decided that the now-clearly focused protection goals could be achieved more effectively and at a lower total cost by placing fewer cameras more strategically. Cameras were placed in “high-expectation” areas such as the band room, where expensive musical instruments were kept.
 
At the same time, Sandia suggested less coverage at places with less pressing needs, such as in doorways and inside the auditorium, where the main risk was low-consequence vandalism.
 
Access control. Clearly, limiting who could enter the building and what they could bring onto the property would go a long way toward reducing the likelihood of a shooting. It would also reduce other threats, like theft. Sandia recommended such measures as restricting entry to the school to a single doorway, placing a metal detector there, and securing all remaining doors as well as all of the windows. Just having pictures of the shooters would not prevent the loss of life, so cameras clearly could play only a limited role.
 
Identification. Both as a corollary to general access control and for the more specific concern about the potential for noncustodial parent abductions of students, Sandia recommended that the school consider two levels of ID. For the general population, it was suggested that students be required to wear photo IDs. While badges can be counterfeited, they allow for a quick way for staff and faculty to determine whether a person is authorized to be on school grounds. The school is now weighing the advantages and disadvantages of this and other recommendations.
 
With regard to the potential risk of kidnapping, the school’s proposed solution before bringing in Sandia had been to have a system in which custodial parents would deliver signed notes to the school if permission was to be given for a noncustodial parent or other person to pick the child up. Because that solution can be easily defeated, the Sandia team recommended a more formal identification mechanism, such as the use of a biometric ID device. A parent with custody would have anyone eligible to pick up his or her children enter biometric information through a hand geometry reader. Only persons authorized by the parent could pick up the child from inside the school, and their hand geometry would have to match a template on file for them. (The school is considering these recommendations.)
 
Counseling and awareness. The consequence analysis also showed that the school would have to do more to prevent the emerging problem of student drug use. While the school is still investigating how to do so, on the recommendation of the Sandia team it is focusing more on identifying at-risk students and providing counseling to them. The administration is also calling student attention to its drug policies and encouraging awareness of the problem.
 
Organizations often implement security measures without considering what is most important to protect. As a result, expensive security systems are put in and yet critical assets remain vulnerable. Instead, security professionals must begin to design protection systems that allocate resources in alignment with the consequence of the loss, not just the probability of the threat. The consequences of doing otherwise are high.

Mary Lynn Garcia, CPP, is a senior member of the technical staff at Sandia National Laboratories, Albuquerque, New Mexico. She is a member of ASIS.

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