Whether it’s the radicalization of students, a shooter on campus or a tornado bearing down, Red Deer College is moving toward a more comprehensive approach to assessing threats on campus.
The college — with a population of around 7,500 regular students at any time — has never had to face such terrible threats.
“But being in post-ed you never know,” says Dan Sarrasin, Red Deer College manager of Security and Emergency Response.
Last week, the college hosted an annual meeting of security managers of post-secondary education institutions from Western Canada. They discussed best practices pertaining to campus security. Sarrasin decided to ramp up the agenda a bit.
The presenters included an expert on active shooters, someone involved in hospital corporate security talking about a double homicide several years ago in a hospital in B.C., the former principal of Columbine High School, who was at the Colorado school when 13 people were gunned down by two students and last, but not least, someone from one of the RCMP’s Integrated National Security Enforcement Teams, or INSET, a counter-terrorism body in Canada that monitors activities such as radicalization of people.
Just this week, 10 teens, four of whom were Quebec college students, were arrested by INSET. The teens’ passports were confiscated. It is believed they were trying to go to Turkey and Syria to join extremist Jihadist forces.
Sarrasin also noted that several young people from Calgary have recently become radicalized and gone to fight with the extremist Islamic army ISIS in the Middle East.
“If you look at the stats out there, a lot of people who have become radicalized are from the younger generation. You’re seeing … post-ed students, not necessarily here at Red Deer College, but at other institutions across the country,” Sarrasin said.
“So I want to make sure all the institutions, all the people in my positions, are educated on that subject matter because it’s very, very important. … We’re talking about a possible threat to national security.”
In all of this, campus security managers need to be cognizant of threats. But at the same time, there are no alarm bells going off at Red Deer College. Besides its regular students, the college also sees 13,000 continuing education students every year and 20,000 others who attend workshops and seminars.
“I consider Red Deer College to be a very safe campus. Part of that is because … a lot of post-secondary institutions are located in a downtown core. Red Deer College is a little bit out there (on the city’s southwestern edge), so crime tends to be a little bit lower here.” They deal more with things like property crime such as vehicles being broken into.
“Overall, Red Deer College is a very safe place to be,” said Sarrasin, 44, who speaks matter-of-factly about the realities of campus security in this day and age.
A lot of the job is around threat management and risk management, he said.
“This is what we do. We want to manage, we want to identify any potential threats. Whether that be domestic violence, intimate partner violence, workplace violence, all of these things tend to come into the workplace even if it’s something that’s outside of the college and it happens at home.
“But if they’re a college student or they’re an employee, that always puts the college community at risk a little bit because that stuff happens to make its way into the workplace.”
Sarrasin has numerous certifications in threat management. He teaches a course at the college to students and staff called Non-Violent Crisis Intervention.
“A school can be targeted. An individual can be targeted. Corporations can be targeted.
“As it pertains to Red Deer College, here we have a lot of things that are in place. We are in the process of developing our threat management team.” It’s one of things he’s been working the past year. He started his job at the college in 2013.
RDC did have individuals previously who looked after aspects of security. But Sarrasin said he is putting together a more formalized team approach, which includes skilled people such as counsellors and human resources staff. Part of the plan involves further training of staff on threat assessment.
“We evaluate the risk together as a group and then we come up with … mitigation strategies that need to be in place.”
Working with law enforcement plays a big role as well, he said, keeping in mind police can only share certain information without violating privacy.
“They don’t want to violate the individual’s privacy. Nor do we.”
When it comes to a threat, Sarrasin said while everyone has a right to privacy, at the same time everyone has a right to safety and security, and that will trump everything.
“If I think that someone here is a specific threat to the college, other individuals, and the danger to life is imminent, I would be going to the police with that information.
“Yes I’ve had to do threat assessments (at RDC) for sure but I can’t give any particulars,” he said.
Individuals may come to their attention through a friend who has read something on social media, or perhaps through an instructor who has heard something. It does not necessarily mean someone is a risk “but we look into it right away. We have an obligation.”
“We hear the phrase all the time that somebody just snapped. Well somebody just doesn’t snap. There’s usually some form of planning that goes on when somebody’s going to act out.”
But there’s also the practical aspect of what to do if a threat does arise.
The college has closed circuit cameras and 24-hour, 365-days-a-year security on the main campus. “Red Deer College is right up there with other institutions both in terms of staffing levels and training of staff,” Sarrasin said.
The college has an emergency notification system. Sarrasin uses the examples of there being an armed intruder on campus or a tornado on its way.
With one click of a computer mouse, the college’s security centre can activate a pre-recorded message that would be heard immediately throughout the campus via overhead speakers, telling people to lock down or take other action immediately. Drills are also held.
The security centre is tested every night, said Sarrasin, but instead of alarming messages, music is played through the system and staff check to make sure the speakers are working.
In addition, people on campus can subscribe to the emergency notification system with their cellphones. They will receive a text message at the same time the recorded message is being played. To further warn people, digital screens in the halls will simultaneously let people know what’s going on, Sarrasin said.
Hopefully the emergency notification system is only ever used to play music.