Karen Dickey, CPP, wants all schools to receive an A+ in one subject: school security. As a school security consultant in South Carolina, Dickey evaluates and creates emergency operations plans, performs security site assessments, and trains the school’s staff in conducting emergency response with exercises such as tabletop drills.
For 22 years, Dickey served as director of operations at a large independent school in South Carolina where she was responsible for security, facilities, health, technology, transportation, and food services. Her career took a new turn in 2011 when she earned the Certified Protection Professional ® (CPP) designation from ASIS International and started her own school security consulting business. Now, her homework consists of researching the school environment and calculating potential risks.
When making her initial visit to a client school, Dickey explores every nook and cranny. Physical site assessments are comprehensive and intense, she says. She takes photos to help her remember each area of the school and to document problems she finds. She also takes note of what borders the campus perimeters, which may be near railroad tracks, back alleys, or other remote areas. Dickey has worked with a range of school environments, with some being in large urban settings and others being amidst large, forested areas.
In addition to the physical assessments, Dickey tries to gain an understanding of the school culture by observing and by listening carefully to the concerns expressed by key staff members. Throughout the process, she spends a great deal of time communicating with school personnel and local law enforcement via phone and e-mail.
Dickey says that her work involves a large amount of reading and writing, as she reviews and evaluates a school’s security plan to determine any areas of inconsistencies, omissions, or errors, and then writes reports to aid the school in refining their security plans. “What I find so interesting about this area is that these plans are dynamic documents and are never in a ‘completed’ state. You are constantly fine-tuning,” she says.
A criminal justice major in college, Dickey enjoys the investigative and problem-solving aspects of her work. She was inspired to pursue the CPP designation after meeting a school security consultant who was hired by her former school to provide a physical security assessment. Dickey was impressed by the consultant’s knowledge and professionalism. She then decided to work toward earning the CPP—and was mentored along the way by the consultant who inspired her.
Dickey believes that the CPP distinguishes her from other school security consultants who have not earned it. “It certainly opens doors more quickly,” she notes.