ACCEPTABLE LOSSES

A good friend and respected colleague, Will Evans, impressed me greatly upon our first meeting. He used a compelling yet simple concept to communicate a crucial point to people who needed to hear it. Staff from Boys and Girls Clubs of America had requested that Will and I pay a visit to a club in Maine after a convicted child molester had been arrested while posing as a reporter and attempting to photograph children there. Alert club officials summoned police when they became suspicious of the man who showed up during a special event attended by hundreds of visitors. During a police search of his home following his arrest, two more child molesters where found residing there, with thousands of photographs of young boys in their possession. At this point in time, Maine did not have some of the types of child molestation registry legislation that many other states have. In some instances, child molesters have moved to Maine to have greater freedom to victimize children. Child sexual predators seek access to children, which often leads them to gain access to (and employment at) youth facilities, schools and other places where children congregate.


The club director places a high priority on safety, and he contacted the national headquarters of Boys and Girls Clubs to request assistance. They decided that Will, I and another respected colleague, Les Nichols, visit the club to evaluate the site and make recommendations. Les is an architect who is one of the most experienced practitioners of crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) for youth facilities in the world. As a vice president for Boys and Girls Clubs of America, with safety responsibilities under his prevue, Les has worked to apply the powerful concepts of CPTED at thousands of clubs in dozens of countries. We were tasked to work as a team, with club officials, to further enhance the level of safety at the club. Even though the individual was quickly apprehended due to good supervision of youth at the facility and a prompt response from local police, the club director wanted to ensure that everything possible was being done to safeguard children at the club.


The club has an extremely high level of youth participation and is extremely well run. During our visit, we made a number of observations and recommendations to improve the level of safety. A number of them had nothing to do with the incident that had taken place with the child sexual predator. Several of these observations concerned other very significant issues with potential for serious problems at the facility.


During our verbal report to the club director and a parent who sits on the board, the director immediately grasped the significance of these concerns. Unfortunately, the board member was so focused on the incident that had already occurred, he did not seem to grasp the other very significant safety issues. Les and I were both unable to get the board member to understand the critical nature of these concerns, and were becoming frustrated.


At this point, Will got everyone’s immediate attention with a simple and direct question. He simply asked the board member if he had taken the time to define the“acceptable losses” for the club yet. When asked what he meant by acceptable losses, Will explained that every organization should determine the types of losses are acceptable to them if they fail to take the safety measures that are appropriate to address them. Examples include, the potential dollar loss from litigation, the loss of public confidence pursuant to a major incident, or in some extreme cases, physical and emotional suffering of people including death of children.


Simply put, when appropriate measures are not taken, children suffer needlessly. This perspective not only helped the board member refocus on the most important issues at hand, but has since helped me persuade numerous people to see the importance of safety measures.


This approach can help school officials who have primary safety responsibilities to help others focus on safety when competing concerns skew the way safety is perceived. By focusing on acceptable losses, you can put things into perspective before it is too late. Perhaps Will’s powerful tool can help you persuade those you interact with as well.



MICHAEL DORN is an internationally recognized authority on campus safety, author of 19 books on the topic and Senior Public Safety and Emergency Management Analyst for Jane’s Consultancy. He can be reached at .


About the Author

Michael Dorn serves as the executive director for Safe Havens International, Inc., an IRS-approved, nonprofit safety center. He has authored and co-authored more than 20 books on campus safety. He can be reached through the Safe Havens website at www.safehavensinternational.org.

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