Campus Security Roundtable: pandemic lessons and diversity issues
It’s been said that universities and colleges are like small cities — with diverse populations, housing, buildings, retail, dining, parking and a long list of other amenities and facilities. If you live on campus, you need never leave. That changed, of course, when the pandemic hit last year. Most went home; some had to stay. And every interaction was managed with the utmost care.
Canadian Security reached out to campus security professionals to get their take on how their pandemic plans unfolded and the lessons they will carry forward as students return to school in the fall.
We also asked questions about the role the security department can play in campus engagement and the promotion of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) values in post-secondary environments.
Roundtable participants included: Pat Patton, director of security and operations, University of Regina; Jacob MacIsaac, assistant director of campus security, Dalhousie University; Steve Bernique, Ottawa account and branch manager, GardaWorld; Kathy Branton, manager, business continuity and emergency management, Humber College; Devon Reeves, special constable, engagement and inclusion officer, Carleton University; and Brian Mitchell, manager of campus safety and security, Appleby College. (Mitchell is also co-chair of the ASIS Toronto chapter diversity committee and teaches an EDI course at the Ontario Police College.)
The roundtable, held virtually on June 3, was sponsored by GardaWorld and presented with the support and co-operation of the Ontario Association of College and University Security Administrators (OACUSA). This conversation has been edited for concision and clarity.
Canadian Security: What was your initial reaction to the pandemic and how did your emergency plans kick in?
Kathy Branton: We actually started following [the virus] in late 2019. By early 2020 — I think by the end of February — we’d actually activated our emergency operations centre.
We started with a very small group of people, including our health and safety folks, our legal representatives, security and some of the executive. By the beginning of March, we’d activated the full EOC and started to have meetings twice a week. Of course, we shut down in March and that sent us into overdrive in terms of what our response was and what we were going to do. Luckily, just prior to all of this, we had just done a revision of our emergency plan. We had spent the previous year implementing our business continuity plan, so we had [those] in place for every faculty in every department across the institution.
I was also, at that point, in the midst of updating our pandemic plan. All of these things sort of coalesced at the same time, so it put us in a good position in order to respond to this.
One of the key things we did was set up small subcommittees as part of our EOC. There were three that were really key in terms of helping us manage our response. The first was our return to campus planning; they kicked into gear as soon as we sat down. The first thing they started to do, led by our VP of academic, was look at different scenarios for potential reopening and what they would look like, and how we would deliver programming. They did a fantastic job of doing that. We also established a COVID reporting team for our college, so students or staff who were potentially infected or diagnosed with COVID could call in and get support.
We were able to then track how it affected our community. So we could look at: did we have the potential for any risk to our campus and how are we going to mitigate that risk? And then we also had a COVID watch group that was tasked with really detailed monitoring of the situation and what was happening and what was going on outside and how it could potentially affect our community inside. All of those groups worked together to give us a really, really good cohesive response. We have kept that up for the last 15 or 16 months.
Steve Bernique: The 15th of March is when everything, here in Ottawa, came to the surface for us and we got shut down. From there, GardaWorld’s perspective was, how do we support our clientele? And how do we protect our personnel? We’re all over the city, we’re all over eastern Ontario. Sure, we had all of the disaster plans and protocols in place for a pandemic… but you never think you’re going to have to pull them out.
In a multifaceted environment with so many silos of clientele, everybody’s requirements were completely different. How do we meet the needs of all of our different clients? It was everything from, “We’re going to take some precautions” to “We’re going to shut down our businesses.” GardaWorld’s response was very client-driven in regards to their emergency plans because everyone’s got their own. It’s not like we were instilling our emergency plans on their protocols. It really was a supportive role and workforce protection to make sure our personnel were safe with the proper PPE.
Devon Reeves: In terms of our department, as opposed to the entire university, it just came down to emergency planning. Without [being] a massive group ourselves or the ability to hire great numbers more to accommodate, we had to figure out how we were going to keep the teams afloat while everyone else was moving off campus. The job description and what we were doing kind of ended up getting broader and broader.
On top of that, we ended up getting very close with our facilities management and talking about how we were going to secure areas, how we were going to start doing decontamination, both for areas that we were going to lock down and on a reoccurring basis for spaces that needed to remain open. It really just came down to: how do we break up the teams in a way where we can continue to get that same coverage while also insuring that if one person gets sick, it doesn’t take down an entire team.
Jacob MacIsaac: Our response wasn’t dissimilar to what I’ve heard from everyone else. Operationally, we staged up our EOC early. In mid- to late January, we started with the group, getting together twice a week and just watching — figuring out what was happening, talking to partners across the region and then it evolved through to March. What I wanted to do was take a slightly different perspective… what worked well for us was what we did the three years before. We started doing tabletops across our institution, practising getting people together every couple of months in the EOC — familiarizing them with how this works and how decisions are made. Our campus emergency plan puts the director of the security department as incident commander. That’s a strange place for security to take over in a big way. You don’t want to be figuring that out in the live environment. We started table-topping these exercises — our pandemic plan, major weather events — and we did that so that the relational aspect of responding would be clear.
People got a chance to figure out how we work together, how these meetings run, how decisions are made, how we prioritize. When we did have to go full out in March 2020, we were able to figure out that while this situation was unfamiliar, we’ve been here before. It allowed us to take care of things because we had that foundation.
Brian Mitchell: I think we’re in a bit of a unique position where all of our students had laptops. We already had an existing framework to be able to deliver education to our kids without actually being inside the school. However, [we spent] months and months putting down signage and floor signs. Right now, we’re operating in an every other day capacity. We have half the school here at any given time. Things have worked out well for us. We have two full service medical centres on site and two quarantine houses on site for international students. We’re a little bit lucky in that we’re able to manage people coming in and out where some schools may not have that. It’s been a lesson, that’s for sure.
CS: What lessons will you take forward following the pandemic?
Branton: What we’ve been doing during the course of the entire pandemic with the EOC is interim action plans. At the end of every semester, we’ve been doing a debriefing and developing an interim action plan about what worked, what didn’t work and how we can improve. For the most part, we’re finding that a lot of the training and the policies and procedures we had in place are coming to fruition and working quite well. In terms of our safety and security policies, nothing has really changed at this point and I don’t see any major policy changes until we get to the end of this because a lot of the things that we’ve put in place right now are, we’re hoping, temporary measures: temperature screening, physical distance, all of those actions.
Once we come out of this, we’ll go back to normal maybe. It will be a new normal, but hopefully it won’t be quite as intense as it is now. We’ll wait till we’re out of it to see what permanent policies may change, but we’ve been really rolling with the changes as they come about and adjusting as necessary.
Reeves: The important thing we’ve learned is the need to maintain established and strengthen connections both on and off campus. The silver lining of being isolated is that you can be a lot more intentional when it came to reaching out to people — getting support and looking for equipment and how to keep this thing going. So, as a result, the departments that we worked with in the past we ended up having to work with a lot closer to keep those operations going at the university. Externally, for PPE providers and how we fit with other services in the city, there’s been a lot more conversations, a lot more dialogue, a lot more co-operation. We’re making sure we’re maintaining those relationships going forward and certainly building out a more robust decontamination procedure so that we’re ready next time.
Bernique: I would say the biggest learning curve was the “virtuality” of life. With the new normal, everything is done through the computer. The piece that we’re missing the most, I would say, in the office environment is that water cooler time — that chat over a cup of coffee where you can throw some ideas around. It’s not quite the same when you do that virtually.
From a lessons learned perspective, as a service provider, it’s protecting our staff. The biggest learning curve was making sure we have the proper screening protocols in place. So before you even left your house, we were putting in protocols. It was about making sure that the essential people that we need to keep the businesses running were actually protected. Case in point, our dispatch centre is located at our head office. We literally had to shut down access to our office so I knew I wouldn’t lose our dispatchers. They are the heart and soul of our business.
It wasn’t that the people working from home get the luxury of working from home… it was literally them doing that to protect our core group. We weren’t doing this as a perk, we were doing it as a protection piece.
We have 800 staff members in Eastern Ontario with varying clientele — everything from retail to office towers. Most of our office towers kept their staffing in place, but the buildings are empty. So we have gone from the customer service and access control perspective to now looking for heat, lights… those kinds of things — the preventative side of the house. You rely on your community for community reporting… “see something, say something.” You’ve lost that piece. Our staff became that vital tool.
The front line was really the success for this group. It wasn’t me sitting behind my desk, or sitting at home; it really was the front line workers.
Pat Patton: We had very similar experiences to what’s been mentioned, but I think the unique part of this emergency was that security was not front and centre in most cases of this. We were really there as a support role. As has also been mentioned, we still needed to be able to access the university. As all my colleagues will probably agree, universities are really tough to get into the mode of locking down.
We were able to develop access points. Our campus is a bit unusual in that all of our buildings are interconnected. We were able to hire students who sat at the access points. When people came in, we did some information gathering so that we could have contact tracing information. It also gave us some information on where people were going and what they were doing while they were there, so it did help us on the security side.
We’ve had that in place for a full year now. We’ll be disbanding it over the summer, but it’s been a great form of student employment and to make sure our community is safe and secure when a lot of the eyes and ears — which are the employees — are gone.
CS: What is the role of the security department in terms of promoting Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) on campus?
Mitchell: When it comes to campus security, generally they are the front line of contact. If there’s an emergency, generally they’re going to see whoever is having that emergency. I specialize more on the 2SLGTBQ side of things, but the future of response is making sure we’re providing the right services to the people we’re helping.
My main concern in the security industry, which is much like law enforcement, is when we start that interaction with a person, whether they’re in trouble, whether they need help or whether they’re asking a question, are we being equitable towards that person? Are we still using “sir” or “ma’am” and talking to people in that “old-fashioned” way or are we being more diverse? If there’s a trans student, are we making sure we’re talking to that person and asking them what they want their pronouns to be and all the nuances that go with that? You could quite literally destroy your company’s reputation or your school’s reputation if that interaction doesn’t go as it should.
I think the biggest thing that we’re going to face is, how do you train hundreds and thousands of security guards properly? Also taking into account that a lot of these security guards might be new to Canada… and also taking into account their backgrounds and religious ideologies? So it’s a little bit of a soup when you look at what you’re walking into here.
But I think it’s a challenge that we’re willing to take on. I don’t think there’s a leader out there in the security industry who isn’t willing to change for the better. Without all of us on board, this will never happen, but we also need to realize why we’re doing it. We’re doing it because we want everybody to be equal.
Reeves: Equity, Diversity and Inclusion is essential to the mission and direction of my institution going forward — especially now that we’ve gone through this pandemic. Security and law enforcement services on campus are not independent of the organizations they’re serving. You’re a member of that community, just like everybody else, and you’re not above or outside of that in any way. So if that is the mission of your institution, that is your mission as well, and you need to find a way to support that as well as possible.
As it stands with my department, we are pioneering the engagement and inclusion officer program. It’s the first adoption in Canada since its inception at the Iowa State University police department. It’s a position dedicated to redefining what community partnership means [through] the lens of community policing.
My department has been the first through the gate on a lot of external reviews in terms of hiring practices, how we’re making sure that what we’re doing is equitable and free of bias. Outside of just partnering with the university, we’re kind of first when it comes to doing a lot of these initiatives and the university is looking to base a lot of changes [on] what is the result of campus safety services at Carleton.
MacIsaac: It’s a passion for us. About 10 years ago, we intentionally embarked on a course to reimagine what campus security would look and feel like. What would it look like to have an anti-oppressive approach to security services? We really wanted to engage some of our on-campus partners to say, what would it look like if we broke our over-reliance on enforcement models toward public safety? We started to do a wrap-around care and support model. So, adopting more restorative approaches versus punitive approaches.
When we went to our students and said, “What do you think about security?” They said, “We don’t ever think of you…. If we did call you, we wouldn’t know what you could do. You’d probably have to call real police.” We really took that to heart and thought, no one wants to be the “B” version. Let’s really play up the fact that we’re not police and that we occupy a very different role.
We stepped fully away from special constable status. We’ve connected with our students in different ways by making it clear who we are and who we aren’t. It’s not that we’re anti-police, we’re just not the police. That was not just a subtle shift. That actually informed the way we did our hiring. It started to look at who wants to be here. If you’re coming to join us to be a stepping stone, you should probably go somewhere else that’s probably going to be a better stepping stone. We have decided that we are not that, and it’s not going to be the runway to that.
In terms of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, we look at equity as the recognition of pulling down the barriers that has made it difficult for people to get into our profession.
We’ve been looking at access to our ranks, but also there’s the inward and outward view. What makes us unapproachable? What are the barriers that we have to be actively dismantling so that we can be more accessible to folks. Moving to that we understood it would require a commitment to diversity — diversity of perspective, experiences, voices. And we had to do that without it being tokenized. We didn’t just want one person of each group, we wanted it to be an honest effort towards diversifying and believing that our service would get better because we had access to more perspectives.
All of that came quite easy. The hard part was the inclusiveness. It was, who were you going to be in the locker room? Who were you going to be when you’re in the patrol vehicle talking to the partner? What are the kinds of jokes that have been allowed in the culture? We had to go hard after the culture that we had established here because you can fake it in five minute interactions on the front line. These EDI principals really changed everything for the way we work, who we are and how we serve our campus.
Branton: We’re very mindful about trying to ensure that our security staff mirror and reflect [our] diverse community… so people can see themselves in the people that are coming to help them.
We also try to be mindful of the fact that because we have a large international contingent, people that come from different countries have different experiences with people in uniform. They may be intimidated right off the bat, just because you’re in uniform… We also try to be mindful that they may have some [previous] trauma that’s associated with calling security and they may be leery. We try to make sure our staff are aware of that.
We also do a lot of training. We just put every single person in our department of public safety, including the management staff, [through a course] on anti-Black racism.
I think recent events also would show us that Indigenous training is also necessary in terms of respecting the land and where we came from.
CS: In our last issue, we featured an article authored by Pat about some of the research she has conducted on female representation in campus security. Can you talk more about that?
Patton: I did this research along with a Masters of Business Administration, which I completed last year. In trying to think of what topic I would do my research on, I picked something that was near and dear to me.
Before I get into that, I want to acknowledge how impressed I am by the things that are being done by the people around this table. We still have a ways to go but we’re getting there.
Most of the research that I talked about was around policing. I think that campuses need to start to define who we are, because in most cases, we’re not police. Finding our profession and being proud of our profession is something I’ve been trying to encourage with my staff.
In particular with women leadership issues, we want to be reflective of our community. At universities, in most cases, more than 50 per cent of our population on campus is women, but we’re still only at 25 per cent seeing women as leaders in campus security across Canada. There were three key points that I found that were setting up barriers for women. The first is work-life balance and the challenge of women still being seen as the caregiver, whether it’s for kids or parents. That is a barrier for women to enter into the occupation where they would be in a pipeline to get into a leadership role. Trying to figure out how we can accommodate that better… is something I think we have to look at as an industry.
As has been mentioned already, one of the other barriers is workplace culture and the way that we talk. We do tend to be a male-dominated industry and some of that “old boys’ club” in the locker room is still there. It’s the every-day culture that we really need to work on. Finally, the last point that acts as a barrier is around leadership style. The “command and control” type of leadership is very important in our industry, but it’s not typically a leadership style that is natural for women. Women, in general, are more often about a collaborative type of leadership. When women are trying to act in the way that their male colleagues are, you get that standard that the guy is “strong and forceful and competent,” whereas the woman is being “bitchy.” That’s still there. It’s still very much alive. As we’re all learning different types of leadership styles, women will be a little bit more comfortable in those styles that are more collaborative. It’s trying to get our industry to shift a little bit.