More Security Technology On Campus

An avalanche of federal and state legislation aimed at reducing crime on campus has led cash-strapped college and university security departments to increase their reliance on security technology in recent years.

Campus security departments today are expanding closed circuit television systems (CCTV), upgrading access control systems and integrating physical and logical security systems, says Adam C. Thermos, a principal with the Milford, Mass.-based Strategic Technology Group, a security consultant that specializes in advanced technology applications for security.

"We have begun to rely more on CCTV and access control technology to deal with crime problems," agrees Thomas Harmon, director of university police at Pennsylvania State University.

Laws with familiar names are driving these security trends: the 1998 Clery Act requires the collection and disclosure of campus crime statistics; the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974 focuses on student privacy requirements as does the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996; the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act updates requirements related to the security of financial data; the Sarbanes-Oxley Act alters financial reporting requirements; and a handful of state laws go beyond the requirements of these federal laws.

"On the one hand, we have a very tight regulatory environment and horrific liability exposures today," says Thermos. "On the other hand, we have security folks, accustomed to compartmentalized jobs, who now find themselves on the front lines. Anything that happens on campus - from date rape, to murder, to IT encroachments - lands at their feet."

At the same time, campus security budgets have remained relatively flat. Thermos estimates that budgets for police departments at major colleges and universities average $1.2 million to $2 million per year and pay for staffs of 20 to 40 officers.

If compensation including salary and benefits for a security officer costs $40,000 to $50,000 per year, financing a staff of 20 officers will cost between $800,000 and $1 million annually, allowing little margin for additional officers. Budgets for security people will probably not catch up with the need, continues Thermos. But security technology can become an equalizer for over-burdened campus security departments.

Of course, no law requires a college to install 20 cameras here and 10 cameras there, notes Thermos. Regulations don't require security technology. The laws do require administrators to exhibit reasonable care in enhancing the security of the environments in which students, faculty and staff live and work.

New technology and declining costs are helping to meet new and higher standards for reasonable care.

New CCTV Capabilities

Time was, security technology cost so much that it was cheaper to add people to security staffs. Today, however, technology costs have declined thanks to the emergence of campus computing networks. Sixty percent of the budget for a security technology installation used to be spent on pipe, wire, fiber optic cables and labor to install cables, Thermos says. "But today we can jump over security system cabling costs and plug directly into to TCP-IP networks. More important, we are getting to the point where we can jump over networks with wireless technology. I wouldn't think twice about throwing up 10 cameras in a parking lot today. I can take power from a light pole, put an antenna on a camera and transmit video to a security station at a cost of about $400 per camera. The point is that you don't have to dig up the parking lot to install conduit for a hard-wired system."

In fact, a number of Penn State's departments have bought CCTV systems for their campus facilities in recent years, according to Harmon. University policy requires that departmental CCTV systems send video signals over the campus TCP-IP network, making it available to Harmon's officers through the Web at virtually no cost to the security department. "Since everyone has a local area network connection in his or her office, the cost of outfitting a hallway or office area with video surveillance isn't that expensive anymore," Harmon says.

Not only is CCTV cheaper to install, new devices and software are improving CCTV capabilities. Thermos has begun to work with what he calls contextual video systems, which use software to evaluate actions caught on camera. Generally limited to locations where cash is exchanged or where federally funded research is conducted, these systems can set off alarms when they detect unusual activity. "Normally, you will walk into your office, start your computer and go to a coffee machine," Thermos says. "But if someone enters an office and starts removing a desktop computer, a contextual system can be set to alarm, because these actions differ from what normally takes place."

Proximity Access Control

Access control systems continue to require physical cabling because steel building infrastructures tend to interrupt wireless signals, but Thermos believes that wireless access control will be perfected within two or three years.

Still, access control technology continues to decline in cost, enabling colleges and universities to lock more doors. For example, Thermos says that cost declines are leading some of his college and university clients to install more convenient proximity card access control systems, switching from older magnetic strip card technology. The newer "prox" cards unlock doors when they come within a certain distance of readers. Users no longer need to swipe cards through readers. Instead, the system simply reads the card, which might be pinned to a lapel or even stored in a wallet in a purse."

While Penn State continues to rely on its existing magnetic strip cards for access control, Harmon says the university is currently exploring a conversion to new types of access control tokens. In addition, university policy now dictates that all new major buildings must be designed and built with card access doors and remote locking systems.

Computer System Security

Last year, hackers attacked the computer systems at the University of Texas at Austin and made off with social security numbers for more than 55,000 current and former students, faculty, staff and job applicants. Observers believe the attackers aimed to acquire personal information to carry out identity thefts.

The incident illustrates how the vulnerability of campus computer systems has created new challenges for campus security departments.

IT departments have pursued computer - or logical - security for years. The most effective logical security systems require users to log on with something more than a password: an access card or a biometric identifier such as a fingerprint.

Current technology enables IT departments to tighten security by integrating logical security systems with campuswide access control systems, again through the TCP-IP network. Suppose someone pops the door of a lab facility at 3 a.m., says Thermos. The access control system can tell the logical system what has happened. In turn, the logical systems can shut down access to all computers in the lab, making it impossible for the person to log in.

CCTV can play into logical security as well. "You might set your access systems to allow an intruder to switch on a computer, while activating surveillance cameras," Thermos says. "Security officers can watch what an intruder is doing physically and even power up a computer screen in the security center to look at what he or she is trying to do on the computer."

None of these CCTV, access control and logical security capabilities are new. High-security installations have used similar techniques for years. But as the price of technology declines, it has become more affordable for colleges and universities seeking economical ways to enhance security.

And technology seems to be working. Thermos estimates that property crime such as burglary has declined by 20 to 40 percent among clients that have expanded and enhanced the use of CCTV, access control and logical security systems. Statistics collected by the U.S. Department of Education under the Clery Act tend to support his contention. Between 2000 and 2002, the total number of burglaries reported by colleges and universities fell by almost half, from 86,400 incidents in 2000 to 44,874 incidents in 2002. Likewise, motor vehicle thefts fell by about two-thirds during the same period - from 45,449 incidents in 2000 to 17,198 in 2002.

While many factors probably account for these declines in property crime, improved and less expensive security technology has surely made a contribution.

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