Unfortunately in this day and age, it generally takes a breach or a tragedy to bring security to the forefront of a particular market segment. For campus security, that tragedy arguably came on April 16, 2007, when Seung-Hui Cho, an undergraduate student at Virginia Tech, became infamous for perpetrating the deadliest mass shooting by an individual in U.S. history.
“It was a complete game-changer,” says Barry Komisar, founder and CEO of Ala.-based security integrator Vision Security Technologies. “That’s what happens when CNN and Fox News is on the campus asking where are your surveillance cameras.”
Not only did the Virginia Tech shootings bring security to the front-of-mind of all campus security directors and administrators, it also affected the very approach of campus security across the country.
“For most of our clients and prospects, the attitude is slowly changing from a ‘not on my campus’ attitude to more of a preventative mindset,” says Remo Patitucci, Director of Sales for Pa.-based Integrated Security & Communications (ISC). “For most schools that I have encountered — whether they are a large urban university or a small suburban private elementary school — added security was usually a reactive measure instead of a proactive investment. Electronic security was usually an afterthought during the budgeting process and typically received the least amount of funding, but we are slowly starting to see that attitude change.”
That changing attitude and evolving method of protection has created one of the fastest-growing market segments for security integrators in the industry. “Security managers and administrators are becoming more educated on the potential threats and possible solutions available to them,” Patitucci says. “With the advances in technologies, highly focused security integrators are playing more of a valuable role with assisting and educating their clients on the potential risks and solutions.”
A Unique Security Culture
For a large campus environment — particularly those common at colleges and universities — the general culture is completely different than your average corporate or retail facility. For a large percentage of these campuses, security systems and technologies have been traditionally handled by the individual departments and facilities that make up the campus as a whole. That means disparate security technologies and procedures, and a distinctive challenge for security integrators.
“Everyone has their own world,” Komisar explains. “You have arts & sciences buildings, and athletics, and facilities and parking — all the different departments —and they all manage their own stuff.”
And while the security systems and technologies may differ from building to building and department to department, it is critical for security integrators to take a holistic approach to securing campuses. “A holistic approach should take into consideration every aspect of security, from the moment a person enters the campus, parks their vehicle and enters the facility,” Patitucci says. “In order for a holistic security approach to be functional, the security integrator and security managers should understand how the visitors and staff use the buildings. An understanding of the everyday workflow will help lay out the most effective and efficient system.”
Vision Security’s recent upgrade at Vanderbilt University is a testament to working with a campus to not only create a holistic, unified security solution, but also to allow these different departments to maintain some of the “technology control” they have always enjoyed. Working with the chief of the campus police department (who is also the head of public safety), Komisar and his team created an enterprise solution with a VMS-based backbone that could handle feeds from all the disparate video systems, along with a five-year, phased plan to gradually bring every department and facility onto the platform.