Safety & Security (Prepare and Be Aware)

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Security Technology Wish List

Security drone on campus

PHOTO © KOROTOVA LIUDMYLA

School security is big business. Forbes magazine found in 2015 that two-thirds of colleges and universities reported that budgets for campus safety and security have increased over the past three years. So what are they buying? Three security professionals share their latest upgrades, their tried-and-true technologies and what’s on their wish list.

Western Technical College
La Crosse, WI

Raj Ramnarace, Security and Emergency Operations manager

As a member of the National Institute of Justice Technology Working Group, Ramnarace found two significant challenges when looking at emerging technologies for school safety: the cost and the need to maintain open and free-flowing access to common spaces. “In the world of higher education security, anything we add to our mix must be effective, affordable and unobtrusive to our educational environment,” he notes.

Still, there are many leading-edge technologies he finds both promising and exciting, including smart sensing devices, video analytics and unmanned aerial systems — a.k.a. drones. “Each of these can reliably reduce the task load for security staff by providing continuous monitoring of many spaces, independent of human intervention,” he explains.

Ramnarace is intrigued with smart sensing devices, because “they can be designed to detect a variety of threats: intruders, explosives, gunshots and dangerous chemicals that create concern in our post-9/11 world,” he says. These devices also notify responders. Expect to see these technologies become as ubiquitous as video cameras as their cost, size and power requirements shrink.

As video analytics also continue to evolve, Ramnarace predicts that smarter machines will eclipse conventional, manned video surveillance systems. “This is inevitable because, with many campuses using dozens or hundreds of cameras, it is not cost effective to have sufficient staff to effectively monitor those cameras on a round-the-clock basis,” he notes. He also points to smart video’s abilities to see, detect and respond to anything and everything of interest on a video feed, something no human could possibly do.

Security video analytics monitors

PHOTO © ANDREY_POPOV

AUGMENTED REALITY. Video analytics tools incorporate technology that can continuously monitor multiple video feeds for movement or other details that could escape the attention of a human observer. Video analytics software that zeros in on an object or event of interest is part of a broader architecture that includes cameras, encoders, servers, storage and networks. The analytics capability might reside on servers, the cameras or the encoders, which convert video from analog cameras so the moving images can travel over IP networks. Delivery of video feeds can be made not only to stationary monitors, but also to mobile devices such as tablets or smartphones. At some point in the supply of data, however, interpretation of and reaction to flagged content must be instigated by trained personnel who can make decisions on handling emergent situations.

“Improvements in video resolution and processing power will make facial recognition a useful tool that will enable us to spot people we are looking for on our campuses,” he says. “Typically, these include stalkers and people who have been banned from campus for violent or threatening behavior.” Video analytics can also be useful in detecting unusual items and systems could alert security to someone who hasn’t moved or appears to have fallen, as is often case with slips, trips and falls on campuses.

Ramnarace is also excited about the evolution of drones. “Assuming regulatory guidance continues to evolve, we will someday be able to monitor our exterior spaces and buildings from a perspective that previously would not have been possible,” he says. He points to today’s consumer drones that are affordable, carry high-resolution streaming video cameras and feature programmable flight paths, as well as auto-collision avoidance and auto-landing capabilities. “Someday, a drone patrol force will augment our foot patrol presence,” he predicts.

While he plans for the future, is there any technology he wouldn’t dare give up? “Absolutely!” he says. “Our video surveillance systems and access control systems are both crucial to our security operations. They are dependable and are always getting better.” He calls the video system a reliable deterrence and a good way to gain critical information when investigating incidents.

Ramnarace states that his school relies heavily on their networked electronic locking systems. “Our system enables us to lock down the dozen buildings that comprise our main campus in a matter of seconds. To do the same thing with manual, hard-key equipment would take significantly longer. We can remove access to lost, misplaced or stolen cards or fobs quickly, without having to rekey vulnerable access points. Additionally, we can review log data to assess building usage and security patrol coverage.”

University of North Dakota (UND)
Grand Forks

Mike Lefever, associate director for Emergency Management

Lefever has a top-priority wish list item: an enterpriseintegrated security system. “This platform offers a complete security management solution including access control, alarm monitoring, digital video, CCTV, video badging and visitor management functionality,” he says via email. “It would enable us to manage our enterprise-wide security systems from a single point, while maintaining local operational autonomy.”

While waiting for that, Lefever discusses what he considers two leading-edge technologies currently in operation: a virtual emergency management system accessible from a computer or smartphone and an advanced functionality mobile safety app.

In place for over three years, the virtual emergency management system creates virtual rooms that can be accessed during an incident. The rooms include: Daily Briefings, Special Events, Training, monthly In-Charge of Campus sheets and a Campus Resources Map.

The Campus Resources Map identifies the location of campus buildings and location of hazardous materials, along with safety personnel and action plans. The system can also serve as a virtual Incident Command System during an emergency.

There is also a Daily Briefings room that includes operation center and university police logs along with news, weather, campus events and health alerts. Before implementing this system, police and operation center logs were internal and not regularly shared. “The most common weakness in any type of emergency situation, especially those involving community stakeholders and multiple agencies, is most often a breakdown in communication,” says Eric S. Plummer, UND’s associate vice president for Public Safety/chief of Police. “This system, along with training for participants, has greatly reduced the risk of any barriers in communication.”

An essential tool to enhance safety on campus, the Emergency Management Mobile Safety App sends users important safety alerts and provides instant access to campus safety resources. The app can push out instant notifications and instructions during an emergency or go into Mobile Bluelight mode and open instant verbal communications between a user and emergency management staff. The app can also send your location to a friend so he or she can track your movement in real time.

The app includes interactive campus maps, allows users to anonymously report safety hazards and stores other safety resources and emergency plans. It can even help a user get assistance unlocking car doors or jump-starting dead batteries.

College of Saint Mary
Omaha, NE

David Ferber, MS, director of Safety and Security

Upgrading the College of Saint Mary’s camera system to IP cameras with NVR is on the to-do list for David Ferber. Network video recording (NVR) devices use the local network to send and receive data, and are ideal for remotely monitoring a surveillance system from a computer, smartphone or tablet. “They hold more data and because information is stored on the cloud it can stay there indefinitely,” he says. “Storing information on the cloud means we can access it even if the power goes out.” Ferber acquired one camera to test on a new residence hall and liked it so much he bought one to monitor the bookstore. He’s presently applying for grants so he can buy more.

He also just switched their emergency text service to an easier-to-use system. “This one does anything at once. It sends text alerts, voice message, email and social media posts instantly,” he says. Ferber also likes that this system comes with a desktop interrupted system. This allows messages to interrupt a lecture by displaying across projection screens and computers. “Assuming the students have their phones put away during class, this gives us an extra level of safety. It’s exciting to finally be able to do that.”

This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of College Planning & Management.

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