Find Risk Before It Finds You

September 21, 2011
Michael Dorn
A security officer at his post.

A key aspect of the safety strategy for any organization is the hazard and vulnerability assessment. Buying security cameras, hiring personnel, conducting training and other uses of resources should be based on a tangible process rather than gut feelings.

Failure to accurately tie safety resources to needs is not only fiscally irresponsible, but ineffective. Gaps in a safety program can usually be identified and corrected by organizations willing to take a close and critical look in the mirror. These proven assessment methods may be helpful to readers who prefer to be proactive rather than wait for incidents to highlight weaknesses.

Evaluate Incident Data, Surveys
Analyzing reported incident data can be insightful because although often incomplete, it is tangible. Reported criminal incidents, accidents, workers' comp claims, safety related lawsuits and other incidents should be evaluated.

Unfortunately, victims do not always report safety incidents. They may fear retaliation, don't think anything can be done, are embarrassed or don't know it is important. The organization can't take action when it is not aware a problem exists. Victimization, safety perception and emergency preparedness surveys can help bridge the gap between what is reported and the incidents that fly under the radar.

Track Community Hazards, Occurrences
Risk inherent to the community directly impacts the campus. The local emergency management agency's community hazard and vulnerability assessment, fire inspection reports, FBI Uniform Crime Reports, local crime mapping information and GIS assessments can be used to assess hazards like registered sex offenders and hazardous materials facilities.

Conduct Tactical Site Surveys Every Year
A multidisciplinary physical assessment of facilities leased or owned by the organization should be completed at least once each year. This should include an evaluation of practices, policies, safety, security and emergency preparedness equipment. Evaluation of the site from the standpoints of emergency preparedness, tactical information, everyday hazards, crime prevention through environmental design and other critical areas should also be included.

Free Assessment Tools are Available
There are numerous checklists and self assessment tools that can help identify gaps in security, safety and emergency preparedness programs. Many of these tools are available for free from government agencies, professional associations, nonprofit centers and other organizations.

It should also be noted that the very best safety programs are enhanced by visits by internal safety personnel to similar organizations with exceptional safety programs.

Red Team Simulations Uncover Gaps
One of the most effective types of evaluations involves the military's red team concept. Techniques such as simulated passive abductions, simulated thefts and penetration of core systems can uncover significant gaps. It should be noted, however, that only personnel who are extremely experienced in these simulations should be used so fear, injury, embarrassment or other problems are avoided.

Many organizations contract with consulting firms to perform assessments either independently or in concert with internal personnel. Because of their experience, qualified experts can sometimes spot more in a few hours than many people can in several weeks. They are also often perceived as having more credibility than internal personnel and can provide a fresh viewpoint. Other campuses have had excellent results in performing their own hazard and vulnerability assessments. This approach can save money if conducted properly. Many institutions have combined both approaches, using external experts to assist them with the assessment while training campus personnel in the process.

Although there are different ways to complete the hazard and vulnerability assessment process, institutions that fail to use this approach are more likely to experience a catastrophic event, chronic plan failure, litigation and waste of resources. Let logic drive your safety efforts, and your organization will be much safer.

This article is reprinted with permission from the May/June 2008 issue of Campus Safety Magazine.

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