Shortening the learning curve

Four security strategies that work for colleges and universities

Effectively enhancing the eyes and ears of increasingly strained campus security resources with advanced intelligent video systems is now a viable reality. For many years, we have heard the promises, seen the trade show demonstrations, and in some cases, deployed "Beta systems" to gauge the security and safety enhancement possibilities of these systems. Unfortunately for those early adopters, the promise did not 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, and came with more than their share of challenges. Rightfully, campus administrators became skittish about these over-promised systems.

However, the industry has undergone a virtual makeover. Healthy competition by a number of emerging manufacturers combined with maturing technology has finally resulted in significantly lower prices. Legacy manufacturers have applied many lessons learned from their field deployments over a number of generation cycles to improve the accuracy and functionality of their products. Systems now offer many more "a la carte" options to suit a particular application and clients are no longer forced into a bundled suite of detection sets at a high fixed cost.

Analytics can now be deployed using a centralized or decentralized model as appropriate for the application and available resources. Cameras from a number of manufacturers now can be ordered with specific analytic features or a combination of features built directly into cameras at the factory. Cameras now can come loaded with an entire suite of password-activated features so that detection features can be upgraded remotely via software with just a few keystrokes.

Systems now use advanced and easier to use "learning modes" and "masking" features to facilitate better system "tuning," which reduces nuisance and false alarms to a manageable level.

Intelligent video is now easier to deploy, offers better condition adaptive "learning," requires much less processing power to function, and is much less costly. Analytics systems that not that long ago cost $3,000-$5,000 per camera while using intense server processing resources can now achieve many of the most essential features for a few hundred dollars per camera or less.

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 and others are now effectively using video analytics to extend the reach and effectiveness of public safety staff in areas where undesired activities could occur.

Strategy 3: Instant Building Perimeter Lockdown

For traditionally open and unrestricted education environments, closing access to campus facilities during an emergency or security incident has been an challenge. Campus public safety officials have for years struggled with the inability to quickly lock down a building or series of buildings when necessary. Some campuses still use antiquated and inefficient phone trees, relying on land line phone calls to individual departments to instruct staff to manually close and lock facility access one building at a time, door by door. Once the all-clear decision is ultimately made, an equally tedious reverse process is required to return facilities to their normal state.

The trend at campuses is to upgrade traditional locks around the building perimeter to electrified locks connected to a centralized system. Using USC as an example, "perimeter" doors can be anywhere from the basement, up to the 3rd floor, depending on site elevation, exterior stairs, or connection to nearby structures. When electronic 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, within seconds. Such a system can automate this process further, by attaching pre-determined actions to a specific threat level such that when the campus or building threat level is raised, buildings can quickly and automatically be locked and placed under the control of the access control system.

The locks can also be put on a time schedule, so that all or part of the campus can automatically be secured or opened at different times of the day and different days of the week. At all other times, the system can keep the doors unlocked, allowing free access, or have them locked, requiring a campus identification card for entry.