Getting into college

Security technologies on the rise in higher ed include wireless locks, emergency notification speakers and cameras or a combination: It all depends on the budget
Friday, February 13, 2015

YARMOUTH, Maine—For students, getting into college can be tough and rising tuition is certainly challenging. For the college itself, figuring out how to enable easy but secure access in and around campus also presents a puzzle. Universities want students, faculty and visitors to have efficient access to public areas, dormitories and classrooms, but access points need to be monitored. And, the security systems need to be designed with the unfortunate possibility of an incident in mind.

That’s no easy task, even if a college had an unlimited budget.

What’s the key to getting in and around college campuses while keeping people and property secure? Integrators who spoke to Security Systems News said that they sit down with college administrators and security professionals to take a look at the big picture and figure out what the budget can sustain.

What kinds of security technologies are colleges investing in today? Cameras, of course, wireless locks, one-card access control solutions and audible emergency notification. RFID on cards is another technology some integrators think holds promise in higher education applications.

“The big key is crisis management,” said Steve Leitz, director of commercial sales, TycoIS.

In terms of video, better crisis management means “integrating a wider array of video to create a wider surveillance area to create situational awareness,” he said.

Wayne Becker, VP of business development for CSi, an integrator based in Allentown, Pa., said he’s seen colleges fortify their video systems a couple of ways. “Some colleges have federated their [video] systems into local law enforcement and also into the county 911 centers.

In addition to being key in a crisis situation, video works when there’s a concern about tailgaters in an educational setting, according to Ronald Haught, president and CEO of integration firm ASI in Quincy, Ill.
“Video from our standpoint is a viable solution to resolve that problem,” he said.

Emergency notification, including high-end audible systems, is a relative newcomer to college campuses, the integrators said. 

“Fixed-based speaker systems on top of a roof [or] attached to poles can increase audibility of announcements on campus,” Leitz said. TycoIS recently installed this technology on a California college campus.
CSi’s Becker agreed with Leitz.

“I see a trend in voice communications,” he said. CSi installed a mass notification voice systems for a local college that has a split campus.

“I see that growing,” Becker said. “You can’t count on having a phone or being in front of a computer, you’ve got to get the voice [instructions or announcements] out there.”

One way to do that is through “big voice” speakers, the other way is “through software that can attach to any public address system and be distributed through the network,” Becker explained.

The software program CSi uses, Rauland TCU, “can connect to any public address system or a supervised mass notification system.” Announcements can be sent using a cellphone, iPad or PC; different announcements can be sent to different buildings or locations.

Robert Haddad, principal with consulting firm Shen Milsom & Wilke in New York, says video is applied carefully in higher education settings at access points with special attention paid to ensure student privacy. What he sees is a proliferation of wireless locks on campus. He cites the lowering price point of wireless locks and the ease of installation. And, with better batteries these days, maintenance is easier, he said.

The integrators concurred with Haddad to a degree. Haught said “wireless locks are a great product and they have their place,” but the price is still prohibitive for some. “If we had a college with a new building, sure that’s [wireless locks] exactly what we’d want to install,” Haught said. However, if budget is a concern and there are a lot of doors, it can be difficult to convince the customer to spend “$500 on a wireless lock versus $100 on a traditional lock,” he said.

Installed properly, wireless locks are great for a college setting, according to Becker. “When wireless works, [colleges] enjoy the fact that the system manages itself,” he said.

With video and access, “it depends what the current infrastructure is like and what kind of dollars [the college] has to spend,” Becker said. “You can spend a fortune on new infrastructure, or if you have an existing well-managed network with a lot of bandwidth … you can put a lot of doors on there.”

Wireless locks and card access also provide the important audit trail to campus security and law enforcement. “It’s very important to know who is where [in real time], and [for forensic investigation] if they were there when they said they were,” Tyco’s Leitz said.

While it’s not a new technology, RFID tags attached to an ID can provide inexpensive real-time information about who is where on a school campus, crucial information in an emergency situation, Haught pointed out.
Like video, however, RFID tags raise privacy concerns for some. “Some are OK with it and some are not,” Haught said. “I personally believe [it’s beneficial for all] if you take the time to educate the consumer on the reasons behind using a technology on the front end.”

The customer, and in an educational setting, students and parents, “have to be able to embrace [the technology]. Some places do and some places don't,” Haught said. “Either way it’s an interesting conversation and one I think we’ll see play out in coming years.”