Securing a Campus Environment Through Technology & Assessment

The convergence of security technologies with campus data networks presents significant opportunities, dangers and challenges.

Unlike legacy systems, where campus security "owned" the communication infrastructure between data panels, contemporary systems often use a shared organizational resource: the campus LAN/WAN.

In order to ensure the highest reliability of these systems, campus security directors are finding that it is essential to develop a solid working relationship with the IT department. This needs to be initiated well in advance of any major capital improvement project.

Campus-wide video is also riding the network technology wave. Due to distance and cabling limitations, many campuses have utilized decentralized video systems. Video from disparate areas of the campus is monitored and recorded only in those areas. This creates the need to staff multiple monitoring rooms and can have a significant impact on personnel costs.

Many campuses have been able to use campus-wide CCTV broadband technology to move video to a centralized monitoring area with the use of broadband encoders/decoders. In some instances, the campus even permits students to view selected cameras on TV sets from their residence hall rooms. Although an effective means of moving video between buildings, this technology has significant limitations and can be very expensive. The preferred means of transmitting video is over dedicated fiber optic cables. However, on most campuses, "dark fiber" is simply not available for this use. When fiber is available, it is usually owned by the IT or telecommunications department.

The idea of using the institution's network backbone for moving high-quality video around the campus is often not well received by IT departments, and rightly so. In many cases, there is inadequate bandwidth between network switches or within buildings to serve current academic or business needs. For example, buildings served by a shared 10BaseT network connection may already be suffering from unacceptable network access delays. Adding video to these circuits is not practical. Adding pan/tilt/zoom (PTZ) functionality to CCTV cameras at these locations would result in unacceptable lag time between the camera operator's actions and camera response. Therefore, collaborative planning for this application is absolutely essential.

There are, in fact, several approaches to the management and movement of video data, even on systems that are near capacity. With each solution there are trade-offs. Bandwidth management, video on-demand, high-compression algorithms and other techniques can often be used to work within available bandwidth. Additionally, technologies such as unshielded twisted pair (UTP) may provide alternative means of transmitting video across campus. However, many institutions have realized that increasing bandwidth to meet current and future needs is the best long-term approach. IT management is typically responsible for addressing these issues and planning for future network demand.

Although access control, alarm management and CCTV tend to be the most visible security technology components on many campuses, several related technologies are also rapidly evolving.

Many institutions are implementing wireless IP—WiFi—across their campuses or developing WiFi hotspots in libraries and common areas. Although there are significant security issues that need to be addressed, there are potential security uses for this public infrastructure. Conceivably, an officer patrolling a residence hall area could be automatically alerted to a security breach by the access control system. If there is a CCTV camera viewing this area, an officer using a WiFi-enabled PDA can retrieve pre-alarm video to determine what caused the alarm and be able to see what the individual(s) looked like and their direction of travel.

Other potential IP-enabled devices in WiFi hotspots could include
o call-for-assistance phones using voice over IP (VoIP) to link to campus security,
o intelligent, WiFi-enabled, high-resolution CCTV cameras with on-board hard drives that continuously record activity but transmit video based on specific events or recognized patterns of behavior,
o WiFi communications for patrol vehicles to provide officers with access to crisis and emergency plan data in real-time, and
o officer-initiated digital video that would permit college administrators to view utility problems or conditions from their office or home.