Canadian Security Magazine

Q&A with Mark LaLonde, chief safety officer, SFU

Neil Sutton   

News Campus

Following a long and successful stint in risk and investigations (and before that, policing) Mark LaLonde recently took over as Burnaby, B.C.-based Simon Fraser University’s chief safety officer. He is already looking at the benefits of implementing process improvement tools like Six Sigma and ISO standards, and is definitely bringing his risk-based background to campus security. Canadian Security spoke to LaLonde mere weeks into the new position about risk, campus safety and building relationships with staff and students.

Canadian Security: What is the portfolio you’re now looking after?
Mark LaLonde: The portfolio is massive. I have four business units reporting to me: campus security; emergency planning and business continuity; occupational health, safety and hygiene (which is incredibly complex, given all the research labs we have on site); and the risk and insurance portfolio. So within all of that I’m responsible for enterprise risk management across the entire university.

CS: What goals have you identified for yourself?
ML: One of my priorities is to focus on the creation of a campus-wide culture of safety and security. I’m concerned about what don’t we know around concerns of students, faculty and staff. How do we get a handle on that and how do we help them alleviate those concerns or address those concerns? We’re a service division, so the goal is to address safety and security in support of the university’s mission, which is learning, teaching and research. So, how do we facilitate that but at the same time, not get in the way?
A great example is, SFU is known worldwide for a number of things, including sciences. We have some incredibly complex research labs that have safety issues and compliance issues. So, how do we work with them to ensure compliance and ensure a safe learning and research facility, but not get in the way of their core mission?

CS: Coming from a corporate risk background, how much of that can you apply directly to what you’re doing now?
ML: All of it. I’m extremely fortunate in that I’ve worked with a number of universities as a consultant, but I’m also adjunct faculty at two universities. Coming from the private sector, consulting with a number of different entities, I’ve got a broad perspective on risk issues and risk systems that are totally applicable here. I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly elsewhere and there’s lots of lessons to pull from that.

CS: Are people taking a more risk-based approach to security in post-secondary institutions?
ML: It’s moving to that. It’s fascinating looking at how different institutions address the concept of security. We’ve deliberately branded our division as safety and risk services. One of my goals is to better instil that mindset across our group about risk and risk management.
It’s not about locking or unlocking doors or responding to a theft complaint, it’s a shift towards identifying, well in advance, what the touch points are, how we enhance safety and security, and better manage risk.


CS: Your title, “chief safety officer” isn’t typical of senior security positions.
ML: It is unique. Some universities refer to it as the chief risk officer. I’ve thought about that and what it implies. Some people see that as managing risk of finance or insurance. What we’re promoting here is that broader safety culture. Safety first, as a subset of risk.

CS: What is your relationship with the student body? How can you help foster that relationship?
ML: Well, as a matter of fact, one of my first acts here was to start to reach out to the different student groups across campus to introduce myself, talk more about what my role is and hear what their issues are. For example, I’m meeting with the First Nations student society today. Early next week, I’m meeting with the Out on Campus group, as well as the larger Simon Fraser student union. I’m really, really focused on having strong relationships across the university. Ultimately, the goal is: people feel safe and comfortable so that they’re happy to come here and study.

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