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May 9, 2024

Campus Protests: Managing Campus Safety Amid Evolving Threats

Protests on college and university campuses are on the rise. Recent events, particularly in response to the ongoing Middle Eastern conflict in Gaza, have resulted in increased protests that carry significant security risks. These protests raise concerns about campus safety and highlight the need for comprehensive security risk assessments, effective risk mitigation and incident management systems

As universities are open environments that encourage free expression and critical discussion, they are susceptible to protests that in some cases, can escalate into violence as has occurred on some campuses in the United States like MIT, Princeton University, UCLA and more. CNN World reports that the escalation of pro-Palestinian protest has escalated to campuses in other parts of the world including Australia, United Kingdon, France, India, Canada and Lebanon.  

This creates unique challenges for campus safety, as institutions must balance the right to assemble with the need to ensure a secure environment for all students, faculty and staff. 

In this blog post, we'll explore the implications of campus protests on campus safety and discuss key measures that higher education institutions can take to safeguard their campuses while respecting the right to free assembly and speech. 

Vulnerabilities in University Campuses 

College and university campuses are inherently vulnerable due to their open nature. Unlike other enclosed institutions, campuses typically have multiple access points and encourage the free movement of people. This openness, combined with the values of free speech and academic freedom, makes campuses a prime target for disruptive protests. 

Moreover, protests on campus can quickly escalate due to the following factors: 

  • Diverse student populations: With students from various backgrounds and ideologies, campus protests can ignite tensions between different groups. 
  • Freedom of assembly and speech: While these are fundamental democratic values, they can also lead to heightened tensions and conflicts. 
  • Alignment with external organizations: Universities aligned with specific religious or political groups may become targets for protests. 

Security Risk Assessment: A Proactive Approach 

Given the increasingly volatile risk of campus protests, universities must adopt a proactive approach to risk assessment. A comprehensive security risk assessment can help institutions identify potential threats and vulnerabilities, allowing them to implement effective risk mitigation measures 

Contacting Local Law Enforcement and Security Professionals 

The first step in conducting a security risk assessment is to establish direct communication with local law enforcement and in the case of the US, local Protective Security Advisors. These entities can provide valuable intelligence and planning assistance, helping universities understand the potential threats associated with scheduled protests. Universities should also consider utilizing in-house or third-party security risk professionals to conduct thorough assessments. 

Conducting a Security Risk Assessment 

A comprehensive security risk assessment involves several key components: 

  • Threat assessment: Reviewing known facts from other comparable incidents and conducting a detailed analysis of local, state, and national intelligence to understand potential threats. 
  • Vulnerability assessment: Identifying potential soft targets on campus, such as physical vulnerabilities, specific facilities or groups aligned with either side of the Middle Eastern conflict. 
  • Corrective actions: Determining appropriate measures to address identified vulnerabilities and mitigate risks. 

Risk Mitigation: Strategies to Safeguard Campus Events 

Once the security risk assessment is complete, universities can implement risk mitigation strategies to ensure campus safety during protests. The following are some effective risk mitigation measures that universities can take: 

Collaboration with Law Enforcement 

Establishing direct communication with local law enforcement is crucial for understanding when protests may turn violent. Universities should work closely with law enforcement to develop crowd management, traffic management and emergency plans, identify threats, and coordinate responses. 

Adjusting Campus Operations 

To reduce the risk of disruption during protests, universities may need to adjust their campus operations. This could involve: 

  • Closing campus or specific buildings for the day 
  • Identifying scheduled protests and adjusting business hours accordingly 
  • Implementing emergency plans that include evacuation and shelter-in-place procedures 

Enhancing Campus Security 

Physical security measures play a significant role in mitigating risks during campus protests. Universities should consider the following actions: 

  • Establishing perimeters around the campus to restrict access 
  • Securing and monitoring emergency exit doors 
  • Ensuring closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras are operable and the facility is properly illuminated 
  • Hiring additional security guards during demonstrations 

Property Protection 

To protect campus property from damage during protests, universities should: 

  • Remove valuables from plain view and increase the visual security of campus facilities 
  • Establish perimeters within the campus to limit access to non-essential areas 
  • Secure and monitor emergency exits to prevent forcible entry 

Insurance Coverage 

Universities should ensure they have comprehensive general liability and property insurance to cover any potential loss, damage or theft resulting from protests. 

Conclusion: Protecting Venues with Risk Management Solutions 

Campus protests, while an expression of free speech and assembly, can pose significant risks to campus safety. To mitigate these risks, universities must adopt a proactive approach to risk management, conducting comprehensive security risk assessments and implementing effective risk mitigation measures.  

By collaborating with local law enforcement, enhancing campus security and taking other precautionary steps, universities can ensure the safety and security of their campus community while respecting the fundamental rights of free assembly and speech. 

When it comes to proactive planning and risk management, we can provide a simplified solution. WeTrack, a Momentus company, gives facilities and venues the tools to report, record and resolve incidents effectively, communicating information, deploying pre-built plans and notifying affected parties. When an incident occurs, you and your team are ready to handle it. 

Schedule a demo here. 


Tag(s): Risk Management

Wayne Middleton

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