Giving the Gift of Security


Students from Sam Houston State University, College of Criminal Justice, Department of Security Studies, presented New Danville, a community for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, with the gift of security in December 2014.

As part of an Academic Community Engagement (ACE) course, first year students from the new Master in Homeland Security Studies Program presented the New Danville management, staff and community leaders with a proposal to address safety and security on campus, from assessing physical safety plans to addressing elements of preparedness for, response to, mitigation against, and recovery from natural and other disasters. The presentation encouraged leaders to begin the process of discussing logistics, operations, communications, administration, and planning for any emergency that may come their way.

First year security studies students prepare to present their plan to staff at New Danville.
First year security studies students prepare to present their plan to staff at New Danville.
“You can’t prevent all hazards and threats, but the most important thing is to have a plan in case anything happens,” said Kameron Weaver, an SHSU student.

Located on 42 acres in Willis, New Danville is designed as a self-sustained master planned community where individuals with intellectual and development disabilities can live, learn, work and grow emotionally, socially and spiritually. The program offers residential housing; job skills training in woodshop, sewing, assembly, and gardening; life-enriching activities, such as miniature horse therapy, beekeeping, cooking, art classes, golf-cart driving, YMCA and bowling; and social and life skills training, said Benzon John in providing an overview of the program.

New Danville
New Danville
Student Kyle West said the facility has many positive factors that enable an implementation of an outstanding safety and security plan, including an amazing, highly dedicated staff and volunteer corps; a diligent selection process for new members who join the community; and strong support from the community and the government.

Because of the special needs population it serves, it is important for the community to have plans in place before any emergencies strike. In addition, collaboration and coordination with local emergency and safety agencies are key to providing officials with an understanding of the special needs of the community while at the same time exposing New Danville to emergency management and safety and security officials who would be involved in responding to potential emergencies and crises. To facilitate the planning process, the class invited Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office Deputy for crime prevention for District 1, Richard Stein, Willis Police Chief James Nowak, and Cynthia Jamieson, Montgomery County Office of Emergency Management Planning and Community Outreach Liaison. During the presentation, invitees were encouraged to ask questions and share comments on each student’s area of concern and discussion topic.

Crime Prevention Specialist Richard Stein of the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office talks to staff from New Danville.
Crime Prevention Specialist Richard Stein of the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office talks to staff from New Danville.
In emergency planning, local, county and state officials generally identify “special needs” populations that may need additional assistance in times of disasters. These populations generally include elderly and disabled person. Local officials need to know and understand the needs of these communities to prepare properly for their response, graduate student Joshua Marreel said.

Garrett Wickens addressed general security and safety issues on New Danville’s campus, including physical, human, and operational security aspects. Physical security may include walls, gates, doors, locks, or security guards. Human security involves situational awareness, resilience, protection of vulnerable individuals from threats and hazards, considerations for dignity and mitigation of fear. Human safety is paramount, and the ultimate goal is to protect lives. Operational security is about having processes in place for how the staff operate routinely (e.g., credentialing of visitors) and how they respond when something happens (e.g., communication protocols).

Clients and staff at New Danville.
Clients and staff at New Danville
Kyle West, a SHSU student, said that safety and security are about expecting the unexpected and thinking creatively.

“Under the ‘all-hazards approach’, you have to consider everything,” said Joshua Marreel, another presenter. “While for certain events of low probability, the risk may be low, if they happen, reactions need to be quick.”

For example, Marreel indicated that the county adopted new flood plain maps in 2014, which identified additional acreage in New Danville as areas prone to flooding. Karyn Grace, New Danville Program Director confirmed that the area did flood once, forcing staff and volunteers to scurry people, animals, and equipment to the top of the nearest hill

Security studies students confer with Cynthia Jamieson, Montgomery County Office of Emergency Management Planning.
Security studies students confer with Cynthia Jamieson, Montgomery County Office of Emergency Management Planning.
While the thoughts of potential disasters may feel overwhelming, it is not necessary to plan for a variety of scenarios. The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) recommends the development of an all-hazards approach to safety and security assessments which includes standard operating procedures in the event of any incident. The procedures recommend designating the people who will be in charge of a game plan, training personnel in standardized emergency management system, identifying resources needed, and coordinating with community partners, from emergency personnel, parents and others involved in the community. Regular exercises and drills also should be held to practice responses and to familiarize all involved with the community and its clientele and to develop lessons learned and best practices recommended student Travis Watson. Exercises in New Danville are of particular significance because of its very unique special-needs population that requires beyond standard approaches for communication and interaction in disaster.

Willis Chief James Nowak discusses safety planning with New Danville Manager Karyn Grace.
Willis Chief James Nowak discusses safety planning with New Danville Manager Karyn Grace.
The purpose of a sound planning process should be to identify potential vulnerabilities and risks before crises occur and to build partnership with not only within New Danville, but also will members of local, county, regional, and state agencies and businesses to include non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who may be able to assist in emergencies, advocated student Andrew Robinson. It is also important to identify avenues of communication in times of emergency, including telephones, cell phones, television and radios and to make sure such communication channels are interoperable. For example, the county has an emergency notification system called “code red” that can call local phone numbers to alert them to disasters, said student Courtney Shaw. The federal government through agencies such as FEMA also provides standardized training models online in the use of its National Incident Management System. Even though New Danville staff and volunteers may have to modify certain aspects of incident planning and response because of their unique profile, being interoperable with larger safety and security community is vital.

“You have given us a lot to think about,” said Grace.

The meeting prompted many discussions among staff, local law enforcement and students.
The meeting prompted many discussions among staff, local law enforcement and students.
Moderator Daniel Gregory Carmona summarized the recommendations and fielded questions from the audience. The students vowed to continue to help the community to develop more specific plans in future courses. Indeed, collaboration with the New Danville community is a long term project for the cohort. Chief of Willis Police James Nowak commended the students underscoring that, considering it was their first class in emergency management, they “did a fairly thorough analysis and the staff seemed to be spurred to action by them”.

Dr. Magdalena Denham (r) led the ACE class.
Dr. Magdalena Denham (r) led the ACE class.
Dr. Magdalena Denham, the professor in the ACE Crisis Management Integration course in the Department of Security Studies highlighted the value of experiential learning through community engagement. Exposure to actual needs of the community and application of concepts learned in class through problem solving in the real world gives deeper dimension to learning and builds stronger empathy and commitment among the students. Not coincidentally experiential learning fulfills the creed of Sam Houston State University ‘The Measure of a Life is Its Service.’

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