Integration in 3D

Let’s name some hot topics in campus security. Certainly “violence” is and will always be a hot topic. Whether considering local incidents, national tragedies, or the recent rash of copycat threats, people tend to allow fear and, sometimes, morbid curiosity, to arouse high levels of interest. Of course, “funding” is always a hot topic. Grants, foundations, and the on-again-off-again flow of government monies quite often determine decisions regarding potential security initiatives. A more recent hot topic in the campus security is “integration.” Just consult Google and you will find that the term “security integration” brings approximately 19,700,000 results! Why such a popular topic? Integration seeks to bridge the gap between fire safety and security. Integration attempts to address years of the disconnected accumulation of products. Integration also holds the hope of making life less complicated for everyone involved with security.

How can a topic so broad and important be handled properly in the finite space of a magazine article? In order to keep things manageable, let’s make use of the literary tool of alliteration and tackle three areas of integration: definition, difficulty, and demand.    

Definition

What does integration mean? Well, you can tip your age by reaching for a dictionary… or you can snap a few keystrokes at your desktop that will lead you to a myriad of definitions at Dictionary.com. The definition I like best comes from Merriam-Webster's Medical Dictionary and reads, “the combining and coordinating of separate parts or elements into a unified whole.” The very concept of making things work together is appealing. After all, there is something special about watching individuals, no matter how talented, coordinate efforts to achieve team goals. That is exactly what integration attempts to do.

Let’s move from a general definition of integration to a more targeted definition of security integration. The security integrator strives to combine systems, information, procedures, and response into one seamless solution. That’s a pretty tall order! Obviously, achieving this goal requires a collaborative effort. In the college and university arena, stakeholders that should be involved include, at minimum, the following:
•    Administrator(s) - Officer and/or Dean
•    IT Director
•    Public Safety Director
•    Maintenance/Facilities Supervisor
•    Local Emergency Responders
•    Security Expert

These stakeholders must take some time to evaluate existing security measures, develop an overall strategy, and agree on the steps necessary to achieve their goals. 

Difficulty
If you think that this mission sounds impossible, you are right on track with this article as we segue into our second “D” — difficulty. Let’s face it; collaboration is difficult. Who has the time or interest to participate in another committee or another project? Developing strategy is also difficult. Who has the foresight and resources to put together a Microsoft-style, long-range solutions plan? And, agreement is difficult. In a day of specialization and budgetary turf wars, how can any real cooperation between stakeholders be realized?

Collaboration aside, there are a few more issues of difficulty to consider. Always a factor in campus improvement endeavors, for example, is funding. Doug Rooker of Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies related, “Sometimes budgetary constraints force decision makers to choose between proposed security solutions and basic operational needs of the facility.” Unfortunately, in these instances, integration needs may be deemed a “luxury” and operational needs may be deemed a “necessity.” Rooker also noted that, “In new construction, approximately 1.5 percent of the project is earmarked for door hardware and related security.” As a result, an effective, value-engineered solution may be in jeopardy even before conception.   

That potential obstacle leads us to yet another difficulty — ignorance. Campus administrators, through no real fault of their own, may lack fundamental security knowledge. They may not know what kinds of systems are currently being utilized or if those systems can be improved. To make matters worse, some administrators might be willing to settle for any solution as long as it meets the budget. In other words, if an integrated solution exceeds budgetary numbers, some type of “Band-Aid” equipment purchase might have to do, instead. Is there a remedy for this lack-of-knowledge approach? Read on.

One final difficulty that is often encountered stems from the fact that an integrated solution is almost always a customized solution. In other words, there is no cookie-cutter integration solution in campus security. Security systems account representative Randy Knepper of Reliable Fire Equipment Company asserted, “I have not encountered two identical applications of electronic security in 20 years of industry experience, so the term ‘integration’ is absolutely client-driven at the individual application level.” As a result, integrators must possess more than simple sales skills, they must be able to offer tailored solutions. They must also be willing to forgo the quick sale in an effort to implement a long-term solution. It’s no surprise, then, that integrators often employ a team approach by including technical and installation specialists from the outset. 

Demand
If the very prospect of integration can be so complicated and require so much effort, one might begin to wonder if the pursuit is even worthwhile. Ah, but the real factor that drives the pursuit can be found in the Economics 101 term of demand. Many campus security programs across the country are failing to provide an effective program of both proactive and responsive components. Perhaps your campus has a state-of-the-art video surveillance system, but visitor management is ineffective. Maybe you recently installed an entry control system that utilizes student and employee fobs, but the person given oversight of the system has too many other duties to review audit reports or implement anything more than basic features. Campuses that have implemented a balanced and comprehensive security program are difficult to find.

Can your campus stakeholders identify with the following issues?
•    Administrators oversee systems they neither purchased nor understand.
•    Those operating the existing security systems at the supervisory level often experience frustration due to a lack of capabilities and coordination.
•    Students and faculty call for a safer learning environment, but often compromise the outdated measures that were designed to protect them.

Taken separately or all grouped together, these situations can create a tremendous interest in integrated solutions that can only be described as demand.

How can this demand be effectively addressed? Knepper describes his approach to the demand for integration: “I try to educate my individual clients about the trend towards managing and viewing electronic security applications utilizing network communications; both local (company Intranet) and global (Web-based high-speed Internet). Much of the ‘integration’ we have seen comes at the software or browser level, but also can occur at the hardware level, depending on the needs and wishes of the client.” This approach mirrors our aforementioned process of evaluating existing measures, developing an overall strategy, and agreeing on the steps necessary to achieve goals.

Demand is also fueled by the need for efficiency. High-profile campus security incidents have demonstrated that notifying school staff and faculty during emergencies primarily through desktop computer messaging is not sufficient. When credible threats have been received, administrators must be able to communicate with students, faculty, and the community quickly and comprehensively. Even when considering routine campus operations, it becomes obvious that personnel responsible for access control should also be utilizing video surveillance. Common sense tells us that these systems should not only be tied together, but should be working together. We are rapidly approaching a time where anything less than an integrated approach is simply unacceptable.

Today’s hot topics in school security will not be changing anytime soon. Unfortunately, campus violence will continue to be front-page news and, oftentimes, too close to home. Funding issues and sources will also continue to hold our collective attention as they play a determining factor in initiatives we pursue. And the relative newcomer in the campus security hot topics crowd, integration, will be heard from more and more. The need for a collaborative approach that unifies existing and prospective security elements cannot be denied. The time to begin the process of coordinating of security measures is now. The goal of combining systems, information, procedures, and response into one seamless solution is within reach. In summary, the future of integrated solutions is not just bright; it is nothing less than vital.

Paul Timm, PSP, is a physical security professional for RETA Security, Inc. (www.retasecurity.com). He can be reached at paul@retasecurity.com or 630/932-9322.

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