What will strengthen campus security?

Access control, mass notification, surveillance listed by poll participants
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Friday, June 1, 2007

In the weeks following the Virginia Tech shooting, Security Systems News polled our readers about what might improve campus security going forward, and what hinders security, if any such obstacle exists, on U.S. campuses today. Of 114 respondents to our survey, 81 percent said universities were not currently taking full advantage of the high tech security offerings on the market.
Further, when asked to choose a security technology that would most benefit a campus environment, 32 percent said surveillance systems, while 29 percent chose "Other" and gave answers that ranged from "training and arming faculty" to "personal protection" to "mass notification systems." Of the remainder, 16 percent chose smart card-based access control, 15 percent said video analytics, five percent listed contraband detectors, and four percent said biometrics-based access control could be best utilized to strengthen campus security.
Mark Craft Blacksburg, Virginia Tech Class of '91 and vice president at Professional Technologies, had this to say: "More than any previous generation, this generation of college students has grown up under electronic surveillance with an unprecedented expectation of safety. We, their parents, have employed baby monitors, nanny cams, web cams and security systems for their protection since birth. School time brought CCTV surveillance, access cards, and cell phones. Less afraid of 'big brother' than previous generations, they are accustomed to being supervised with technology. The question is: How far must this society go in order to feel safe? What will this new generation demand in the name of safety? In hindsight, simple measures could have at least reduced casualties in Norris Hall on April 16. But had they been in place, they may have merely caused the shooter to alter his plan--perhaps finding an easier target. I don't believe he tried to enter any of our access controlled computer labs on the 3rd floor."
Roscoe Coffman, operations manager at Open Options, said that he felt people needed to be better informed. "Most college and university administrators are woefully uninformed about the capabilities of current systems. For example, most would be astounded at the fact that critical video call-up, access control lockdown and campus wide audio annunciation could be accomplished with a single mouse click."
Access control was a theme that resonated amongst our readers, as well. "Running sophisticated access control and security systems is a daunting task at best," said Gene Samburg, president and chief executive officer of Kastle Systems, in Arlington, Va. "Campus security directors have limited budgets and limited resources. Many have not taken full advantage of outsourcing the operation and management of their systems to experts who can better perform the ongoing system management at a significantly higher level at a lower cost than they can themselves."
"I have long advocated entry-based weapons screening as the main and best deterrent to lethal violence in high schools; and the principles can be extended to campuses without compromising academic freedom," said J C Guignard, MD, FErgS Principal Scientist, Guignard Biodynamics, in Metairie, La.
Mass notification was also mentioned frequently by respondents, and has been a much-discussed security topic since the shooting.
Bob Shanes at Talk-A-Phone in Chicago remarked, "We are hearing more and more from campus safety professionals seeking for a more effective and efficient manner of quickly relaying information to thousands of people on their facilities. There seems to be a general feeling that multiple methods of communication including text messaging, emailing, and wide area broadcast is critical."
"Today, in the age of the Internet and IP communications, it could have been to the advantage of the university to have a system that can show, in real time, actual images of the scene as well as broadcast audio," said Bethany Moir, Director of Marketing at Visual Defence Inc. "The campus security center could manage the situation and have a proper assessment of what is going on from live coverage within the class rooms. This could be done with an inexpensive network of IP cameras that have audio transmission abilities as well, all broadcasting to a central location. A sophisticated video and audio management tool could display the images, perform automatic actions and lead the security personal through a series of predefined actions to resolve the situation. The fact that the flow of information was based on the cellular network, which is a one-to-one connection, prevented the quick resolution of the incident."
The future of college recruiting most certainly includes security ratings, according to many of our readers. "I believe that 'safety certifications' will also play a very important role in college and university recruiting, just like other certifications that demonstrate quality and value," said Rick Shaw at Awareity.
"Obviously, security is part of the mix now," agreed Robert Dannenfelser of axonX. "Physical security is something that can be easily promoted to parents and students. Video-analytic powered security takes the human factor out of the surveillance equation, leaving the response to the situation the only variable."
And Dawn Icard of The Systems Depot said, "Whatever safety measures a university has in place, or is considering putting into place, would play a major role in my decision if I were considering which university to attend."
Are any campuses leveraging their security solutions adequately? "There are several colleges and universities that are using the current security technology on their campus along with a guard or police force, showing a proactive approach to protecting students, faculty and staff," said Jim Geyer, general manager of SST, Midwest Region.
As with most around the country, the tragedy affected our readers on a personal level, as well. "As the father of a college sophomore and a middle schooler, I do and will check the school safety records of their present and intended colleges," said Kenneth R. Wheeler, the director of Security Services, at North Mississippi Medical Center.
"Those schools or colleges with good to outstanding safety records should publicize their safety efforts."
Perhaps Bill Mooney Tri-Cities branch manager of Protex Central in Nebraska, summarized it best from both a parental and security point of view: "As a parent of a school age daughter, I believe that parents today should be looking for a secure place for their kids to be educated, not only in higher education, but K-12 as well. While it is true that we cannot protect them all of their lives, it seems only appropriate that we should do our best to see that they are as safe as possible for as long as possible."