Shortening the learning curve

Four security strategies that work for colleges and universities

Editor's Note: For more on perimeter lockdown technology, see the East L.A. College (page 27) and University of Virginia (page 34) case studies.

Strategy 4: Security Systems Commissioning

Sophisticated, software-based security systems can provide powerful tools to support campus security and safety efforts. By nature, such systems are very flexible, with many provisions and capabilities that can act in a multitude of ways to manage the process of physical protection, if properly configured and programmed. However, the full potential of these systems to support enhanced security is often overlooked due to unfamiliarity with the products, weaknesses in security planning, and constraints associated with the design and construction process. Further, most campus safety and security personnel cannot anticipate every specific systems operational programming need until they get their "feet wet" with the new systems.

Commissioning (a concept more familiar to mechanical and industrial engineers) ensures that security systems are designed, installed, functionally tested, and capable of being operated and maintained according to the owner's real operational needs rather than what the manufacturer's boiler plate user manual prescribes.

Traditionally, security installations require a level of testing, called "Final," "Functional," or "Acceptance" testing, as the final requirement for completion of the project. Most of these requirements only scratch the surface of system capabilities and usually do not involve simulating of actual security incidents and adapting systems programming and operational protocols to account for the results of these tests. The complete commissioning process goes further in seeking to guarantee that the system operates properly, that it properly addresses campus vulnerabilities, that it can be adequately supported in the future, and that it can be used effectively by staff as part of the total security program.

This is especially important where sophisticated systems interact with each other, such as with access control, intrusion, video, fire alarm, electrified locking and elevator control systems. In addition, operating and maintenance improvements can be realized when stakeholders are cognizant of the goals of the system, its performance and operational boundaries, and the methods and quality of the initial installation. Commissioning uses a more thorough series of program validation exercises during a burn-in period and enhances customer satisfaction by verifying that systems operate as effectively as possible. The results ensure that security concepts have been properly integrated into the final product. An enhanced Commissioning approach helps protect not only the campus security investments, but develops confidence in every security technology deployed throughout the campus.

Ultimately, successfully deploying proven security strategies and the elimination of chancy "beta" technologies shortens the security learning curve and improves the overall security program. As a result, the perception of campus security is steadily improving and campus security "visions" are becoming reality.

James R. Black, CPP, PSP, CSC, CET serves as senior security consultant for TRC out of their Irvine, CA office. Over the past 16 years, Mr. Black has assessed threats and designed security systems for many of the nation's critical infrastructures including colleges and universities. Mr. Black is a member of ASIS Architecture and Engineering Committee and the International Association of Professional Security Consultants. James can be reached at