The campus security standard of care continues to evolve. Technology plays a more important role than ever before, and manufacturers want their equipment to become the solution of choice at education facilities across the nation. Campus administrators need to know more about these security technologies and how they might fit into a campus security program.
Safe and secure
Three trends are emerging in education security:
- Intelligent video analytics
This technology finally is realizing its promise. For many years, education institutions heard the promises, saw the trade show demonstrations, and in some cases deployed "beta" systems to gauge the security and safety enhancement possibilities of these advanced video systems.
Unfortunately for those early adopters, the promise didn't come close to justifying the hype. Initially, these "military-rooted," processor-heavy applications were designed for government entities not concerned about price, complexity or false-alarm rates. Expensive and difficult-to-maintain systems, combined with well-publicized test failures, seemed to do more harm than good and created an unfortunate perception in the industry about the viability of video analytics.
But the industry has undergone a virtual makeover. Competition among a number of emerging manufacturers, combined with maturing technology, has resulted in significantly lower prices. Legacy manufacturers have applied the lessons learned over a number of product generations to improve the accuracy and functionality of their products. Systems now offer more "a la carte" options to suit a particular application, and schools no longer are forced into a bundled suite of detection sets at a fixed cost.
Analytics now can be deployed using either a centralized or decentralized model — whichever is appropriate for the application and resources. Cameras from a number of manufacturers now can be ordered with specific analytic features or a combination of features built in directly. Cameras often are loaded with an entire suite of password-activated features so that detection features can be upgraded remotely via software.
Systems now have advanced and easier-to-use learning modes and masking features to facilitate better system tuning. This reduces nuisance and false alarms to a manageable level. Analytics systems that not long ago cost $3,000 to $5,000 per camera while using intense server-processing resources now cost a few hundred dollars per camera or less and can include many essential features.
The University of Southern California (USC), for example, has deployed the latest-generation intelligent video analytics to improve incident detection, assessment and response. The campus is using video analytics to extend the reach of public safety staff in areas where undesired activities might occur.
- Mass notification
Keeping students, staff, faculty and parents informed in a crisis and maintaining a sense of order is high on everyone's list of priorities. Here again, the industry push for solutions has overshadowed some of the reality and limitations of some technology-interdependent applications. E-mail and text messaging are so ingrained in our daily lives that their application as universal saviors in a crisis seems on its face to be sound judgment.
Real-world realities, however, have shown us that for larger institutions at least, there are fundamental flaws in an approach relying on only one or two notification technologies. The logistics of maintaining massive lists of high-turnover populations has proven to be a bigger challenge than anticipated. Sending tens of thousands of e-mails or text messages at once has overwhelmed systems and caused embarrassing delays. In extreme cases, alerts have been received many hours after an incident has concluded and media reports have been disseminated. Fundamental misperceptions about the capabilities of certain systems occur regularly and sometimes result in an incomplete emergency-notification strategy.
The good news is campuses are re-evaluating their notification systems and replacing insufficient systems with more robust and flexible services. New purchasers of notification systems should take advantage of the lessons learned by early adopters. The clear trend is to focus on a multi-mode system strategy that incorporates high-tech, low-tech and no-tech solutions into a notification plan. Text messaging still remains an important component of the alert program, but comprehensive solutions also include radio, television, audio paging, instant messaging, phone calls, digital message boards, improved and continual awareness training, and even old-fashioned emergency lights and sirens.
One emerging technology that might ease the performance problems associated with cell-phone messaging is cellular broadcasting. Instead of needing to acquire and maintain massive user lists, cellular broadcasting allows for transmitting a message simultaneously to anyone near a particular cell tower. This technology greatly reduces drain on network resources and could boost performance and system effectiveness significantly.
- Building perimeter control
For traditionally open and unrestricted education environments, closing access to campus facilities during an emergency or security incident has been a tough challenge. Campus public-safety officials for some time have struggled to lock down buildings quickly. Some campuses still use antiquated and inefficient phone trees, relying on land-line phone calls to individual departments to instruct users to close and lock facility access doors manually, one building at a time. Once an all-clear is issued, an equally tedious reverse process is required to return facilities to their normal state. Procedures like this are inefficient and may put staff members at risk.
The trend at campuses is to upgrade traditional locks around the building perimeter with electrified locks that are connected to a centralized system. At USC, "perimeter" doors can be anywhere from the basement up to the third floor, depending on site elevation, exterior stairs or connection to nearby structures. When these perimeter door locks are connected to an access-control system, an authorized person could initiate "one-click" locking of a building, a series of buildings, or even an entire campus at the touch of a button. Such a system can automate this process further by attaching pre-determined actions to a specific threat level so that when the campus or building threat level is raised, buildings will lock automatically and be placed under the auspices of the access-control system.
The locks also can be put on a time schedule so that all or part of the campus can be secured or opened automatically at different times. The system can keep doors unlocked, allowing free access, or have them locked so that a campus ID card is needed for entry. Some campuses are moving toward the "keyless campus" approach in any case, with electronic locks and proximity or smart cards to control access.
A proximity card system is not necessarily required to accomplish remote lockdown capability, but moving to an electronic card might reduce or eliminate the systemic manual key-control issues facing many campuses, and give campus security a critical tool in their incident-response tool kit.
Read the sidebar, "Security systems commissioning: An old trick for your new dog," to this article.
Black, CPP, PSP, CSC, CET, is a senior security consultant and operations manager for TRC Solutions' Irvine, Calif., office. He is a member of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals (ATAP), ASIS and the International Association of Professional Security Consultants. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Percentage of K-12 schools that plan to add access-control card systems to their security systems.
Percentage of colleges/universities that plan to add access-control card systems to their security systems.
Source: 2008 School Security Survey, American School & University/Access Control & Security Systems, July 2008.