In the days and weeks following the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, there was no shortage of terrorist attack warnings, bomb threats, anthrax scares, suspected air and water contamination, and cyberattacks. Colleges and universities that had previously prepared for little more than severe weather emergencies were suddenly confronted with endless "what if" scenarios. And, according to security specialists and university officials, it's become apparent in the past 12 months that many schools found their plans to respond to any kind of disaster lacking. "School officials believe more now that a tragedy can happen to them," says Alan Brill, Senior Managing Director of the New York-based Kroll Information Security Group. "The disaster recovery plans that were originally put together because personnel were forced to draft them have taken on a new significance. After 9/11, senior management recognized that these disaster responses are not classroom exercises, but are vital to the overall continuity of the college or university operation."
The most surprising reaction, however, is that IHEs across the country do not see terrorism as a chief concern in disaster planning. Although it was the terrorist attacks that forced schools to take stock of their plans, the university officials interviewed for this article say that the biggest issues they face continue to be those that existed prior to 9/11: natural disasters, crime on campus, fire, and personnel security issues.
"Those are the things that continue to affect daily existence," agrees James Francis, Senior VP of Security Services at Kroll. "A terrorist attack is far more likely on the Pentagon than on a small school in North Dakota." He agrees that institutions should focus the bulk of their preparedness efforts on areas such as natural disaster planning, crime, or increased computer security.
FOCUSING ON MORE LIKELY THREATS
That's the overriding philosophy at the University of California-Berkeley, says Tom Klatt, Director of Emergency Planning and Communications for the UC Police Department. He admits that since 9/11, the school has added a number of security measures to reduce the likelihood of terrorism, but, he says, it has more aggressively pursued other--more imminent--security concerns. "September 11 may have been the wake-up call for some schools," says Klatt, "but we've had active shooter scenarios, we've been targeted twice by the Unabomber, we have animal rights groups protesting the school's animal, testing program, and we've seen vandalism to crops. We've had disruptions from a variety of sources."
Recent security measures at Berkeley include a bomb-sniffing dog, the installation of traffic barriers to keep vehicles from driving or parking too near campus buildings, and cyberlocks (electronic padlocks) that allow security personnel to track who enters and leaves each building. Another change: background checks of current employees are now standard--regardless of tenure. The checks look for criminal convictions in the Department of Justice database, and are required of those employees issued high-level access keys or access to sensitive areas such as electrical substations, rooftop doors, or hazardous material facilities.
Kroll's Francis notes: "Schools that have done a good job at tightening up because of 9/11 have seen a decrease in unwanted events that have plagued them for years."
THE COST OF FEELING SECURE
Today, with budget cuts and spending caps, an obvious question for administrators looking to boost security is, "How are we going to pay for it?" But, says Brill, "Not all solutions are costly; many are common sense."
Klatt agrees: "Most of the measures we've put in place at Berkeley are fairly cost-effective. There hasn't been a large dollar outlay relative to our annual budget. Measures have largely involved redirecting existing staff time to new areas. …