Navigating campus safety and protests more effectively with SafeZone: lessons from recent events

In the realm of higher education, universities are not just centres for academic pursuit but collaborative communities where diverse ideas and opinions converge.

However, when political activism transforms into protests, ensuring campus safety while respecting the principles of free speech becomes a paramount concern for campus safety and security professionals and university administrators. Recent incidents at both UK and Australian universities serve as a poignant reminder of the delicate balance institutions must maintain in these scenarios. SafeZone by CriticalArc has emerged as a significant aid to managing student protests, providing vital capabilities and resources to help maintain this balance effectively ensuring the safety of everyone involved and operational efficiencies.

Proactive preparation

The necessity of proactive preparation cannot be overstressed. Involving campus safety and security from the onset of planning in the event of a protest on campus can significantly enhance outcomes. If university officials are aware of a planned or potential protest ahead of time, selecting an area of campus that can comfortably accommodate attendees while minimizing disruptions to campus life is a critical first step in planning. For events likely to draw large crowds, locations on the periphery of the campus are preferable. This strategic choice assists in crowd management and reduces the impact on academic and administrative operations. SafeZone allows Universities to create geo-fences covering designated protest areas so no matter where the demonstration occurs, your safety and security teams have true situational awareness of the area. User groups can also be utilised within the SafeZone platform to differentiate communication between different parties involved including demonstrators, responders, University Executives, and so on. The University Executive management user group and communications ensure up-to-date information to inform decision-making, risk management, and external relations/comms in real-time. Additional capabilities include mass communications templates and Wellbeing Assistance to support both protesters and those impacted by the protest.

Enabling open communication and relationships

Having o  pen communications and dialogue with protesters builds a foundation of trust and helps to manage expectations on both sides. Open dialogue also enables communications when things don’t go as expected, for example, when emotions run high or outside influences might further provoke or escalate a situation beyond its normal course of action. SafeZone offers 1-1, 1-Many, and group communications between protest organizers and University responders to ensure sustained communications and that safety, wellbeing, and welfare needs are being met. It also allows for non-urgent reporting, which can be submitted anonymously, so the concerns of bystanders who feel intimidated, harassed, or assaulted, can be tended to as well as the reporting of non-University protest participants who may become threatening or violent. Additionally, SafeZone provides personal safety duress alerting at the touch of a button for non-protest bystanders who feel unsafe.

Building and maintaining trust through professionalism of staff

Political events and protests, especially in today’s polarised climate, are susceptible to public backlash and are quick to hit social media channels. Universities must clarify their commitment to upholding free speech without endorsing specific viewpoints. This involves establishing clear guidelines for conduct, based on university policies and legislation, to ensure that all voices are heard in a respectful and safe environment. The professionalism of campus safety and security is fundamental to maintaining trust and safety. Campus safety officers must remain impartial, refraining from displaying political or personal affiliations while on duty or on social media to prevent any perceptions of bias. With SafeZone, universities can utilize analytics from exercise drills and tabletop practices for incident playback, identifying continuous improvement opportunities, and refining operating procedures. Furthermore, Omniguard®, can be used to communicate amongst responders, share instructions, provide backup, ensuring that duties are carried out professionally at all times.

Coordination of responder resources and communication with university executives

During large-scale events, where the situation can rapidly evolve and help may be needed, the ability to have real-time situational awareness and 2-way coordination and communication is vital. With SafeZone, staff and students can send responders their precise location and request help for themselves or others all at the touch of a button. This technology also enables non-urgent tip reporting which allows users to report events and activity that either doesn’t look or feel right. Safety is everyone’s responsibility across the University community and the ability to receive reports in this way enables responders to proactively address concerns and reprioritise resources, potentially averting a situation becoming more serious and escalating. Furthermore, user groups and chat functions provide continuous updates and maintain situational awareness.

Having an operations plan

A detailed operations plan, encompassing communication strategies, key contacts, and coordination with other departments and external agencies is crucial for the smooth execution of event security measures. SafeZone’s conditional workflows can automate the distribution of information to internal stakeholders, such as critical incident teams, ensuring swift and efficient communication. Additionally, SafeZone offers templated mass notifications customisable for known incidents and situations, allowing for quick response times.

Operations plans should adhere to the organisation’s Major or Critical Incident plan. Both first responders and university administrators must be well-versed in Emergency Management principles, with regular training and drills involving the Emergency Operations Group using the Emergency Management Framework Structure. This ensures that university administrators understand their roles, as well as the roles of first responders, and that communication is maintained throughout any incident. Additionally, roles and responsibilities, along with permissions, can be set up in SafeZone to streamline incident management and response.


In conclusion, as campus security professionals and administrators reflect on recent events and beyond, proactive planning, clear communication, and a commitment to safety and free speech are essential components of effectively managing protests on university campuses. It is widely expected that student protest will continue to be a feature of the new academic year and SafeZone can be a significant aid to the University’s response in supporting these efforts by enhancing communication, building trust, and fostering dialogue between protesters and university resources. SafeZone provides the institution with situational awareness without an overbearing or intimidating physical presence and supports the wellbeing and mental health of all parties involved. By embracing such a transformative solution to providing safety through a neutral and thoughtful approach, institutions can protect their communities while upholding the values of democracy and academic freedom.