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Managing campus safety and security amid student protests

Managing campus safety and security amid student protests
When protests happen, ensuring the safety of students, faculty and visitors becomes a top priority. This article takes a closer look at managing campus safety and security amid student protests.
Student protests are no stranger to colleges and universities. When protests happen, ensuring the safety of students, faculty and visitors becomes a top priority. This article takes a closer look at managing campus safety and security amid student protests.

Protests continue to pose challenges for campus safety and security

College protests are nothing new. A new wave of protests and demonstrations were seen recently across US college campuses as students voiced their concerns over the situation in the Middle East. While the large-scale demonstrations have mostly ended, smaller gatherings still happen sporadically at campuses.
When protests happen, it’s incumbent upon colleges and universities to make sure that students, faculty and visitors stay safe on campus.
“The recent increase in large-scale protests across US universities has heightened the need for robust security measures. Effective security solutions are essential to protect students, faculty, and visitors amid these protests,” said John Centofanti, VP of Sales for U.S. at Axxonsoft.
“Universities must manage potentially disruptive surge events such as political campaign rallies at their stadiums during elections seasons, major sporting events and concerts, open days and high profile visits from speakers who may attract controversy. Protests and demonstrations are an increasingly regular feature of campus life, with political polarization particularly in the U.S., and in many countries heightened tensions resulting from the unfolding conflict and tragedy in Israel and Gaza,” said Jamie Barnfield, Senior Sales Director of IDIS Europe.
He added: “Even for experienced campus police or security teams it can be daunting managing protests and demonstrations, which are sometimes flagged up long in advance but can occur with little or no notice; it is therefore essential for risk managers to plan ahead and have the right resources and systems in place to ensure their security or policing teams have unbroken visibility and domain awareness, robust communications, and effective rapid response tools.

Balancing free speech and campus safety

It should be noted that protests and demonstrations are protected in most democratic countries in the world, and student protestors have the right to have their voices and concerns heard. Striking a balance between campus safety and the students’ freedom for assembly thus becomes critical.
“We should be clear that protests in themselves are not a problem – they are a democratic right and should be seen as a sign of healthy political engagement and interest. The risk with these events is that they do deteriorate into ‘hate speech,’ aggressive behavior, or violence, especially where clashes arise with counter-protestors. Where large crowds gather there is also always a danger of crush injuries,” Barnfield said.
He added: “It is vital that protests and demonstrations are managed safely and fairly, to enable these democratic traditions to continue – and that means preventing or dealing with disruptive, threatening, or violent behavior which can occur if feelings get out of hand, or if outside provocateurs deliberately come to campuses to stir up trouble.”

Ways to maintain campus safety and security amid student protests

That said, keeping campuses safe and secure during protests has become imperative. This will entail planning, training of staff and maintaining clear communication channels with security and law enforcement.
“Universities should implement comprehensive crowd management strategies, including clearly designated protest areas and routes to ensure demonstrations remain peaceful and orderly. Additionally, training programs for campus security personnel on de-escalation techniques and crowd control are vital to manage protests without escalating tensions,” Centofanti said.
He said universities should also establish clear communication channels to keep the campus community informed about safety protocols and emergency procedures during protests. “By implementing these security solutions, universities can ensure a safe environment that supports the rights of individuals to protest while protecting the entire campus community,” Centofanti stated.
Barnfield echoed those remarks. “Teams need the right training and team composition to be able manage crowds – including ‘soft’ conflict de-escalation skills – and it’s always preferable to establish a constructive dialogue with protest organizers to agree the location and timing of any demonstration. It should be remembered that the location of any protest should be chosen to minimize disruption, but to allow the protest to still be visible. Demonstrators understand that they have the right to be heard,” he said.
Meanwhile, security technologies can also be employed to keep student protests from getting out of control. “Enhanced surveillance systems, such as CCTV cameras and drone monitoring, can help monitor large gatherings and quickly identify potential threats. Collaboration with local law enforcement agencies is crucial for real-time response and coordination,” Centofanti said.
“It’s essential for campuses to have in place the core security technologies. Above all, video surveillance linked with robust two-way communications enables comprehensive visibility and the most efficient team coordination, allowing incident commanders in the control room to direct responders and keep control of events. This linking of video systems with push-to-talk cellular communications is a relatively recent development, and for many universities it now offers the prospect of significant cost savings as well as capability enhancements,” Barnfield said.

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