A day in the life of security on a college campus

Examining a day in the life of a campus can reveal some fascinating aspects of the safety and operational requirements you may not have known about.  It is a well-known process to track the activities of a safety and security officer to better help them deliver vital services in an active environment. The following represents a simple timeline of potential events in a day at a typical campus.

2 a.m.

Early morning at a university in the Midwest, a vehicle breaches a staff parking entrance, the driver parks near a poorly lit loading dock and forces a service door open.  Responding security officers already had a head start when the vehicle’s license plate was not in the student, faculty, staff or contractor database and the gate camera sent an alert immediately and directly.  The video intercom at the service door also showed the door breached and the suspect vehicle with waiting accomplice still inside.  The alert campus command center operator dispatches law enforcement, which arrives immediately after campus security, apprehending the suspects.

5 a.m.

The campus day begins with the arrival of a fresh security officer shift that checks in at command.  The team reviews the last shift’s events with a quick overview of several video clips, providing the incoming safety and security officers a visual overview of the previous day’s issues and additional intelligence to keep their campus safe. The usual main entrance monitoring and screening overviews, classes let out, students returning to access controlled dormitories, evening deliveries, automated faculty escorts and the one overnight breach are reviewed in minutes using the saved and metadata video management system searches.  The team goes on their way and begins their tours and manning their posts.  All officers are equipped with tablets capable of real-time video view, alarm review, dispatched incidents and direct messaging to the local public safety answering point (PSAP) for all first responder categories.

7 a.m.

Staff, student and faculty arrival continue to build through the early morning hours, and command center operators and safety/security director are all at attention monitoring the activity. The use of 360-degree, HD network cameras achieves a panoramic view of school ingress and egress areas, with a useful overview of controlled access points, main student entry and reception. “My field-of-view has been increased tenfold,” says the safety and security director when asked about the system’s enhanced video surveillance. “If I don’t get you coming in, I’m going to get you going out.”


The campus lunch break has the usual students eating both indoors and outdoors, together with a number of activity tables on the common grounds.  Seeing that the break has just started, the command center uses the campus public address system and directs students which way to go for the lunch break’s events.  The video surveillance system confirms they’ve got the message as activity builds.

4 p.m.

The day is just about over for most of the student population. But staff, faculty and an incoming evening shift are still engaged on campus. The evening security staff prepares to review the previous day’s and shift’s events again made simple through intelligent searches and embedded applications inside the network cameras.  These “apps”, whether license plate detection, cross line detection, student activity mapping or people counting, literally turn network cameras into domain awareness sensors, relaying a steady stream of data available on demand.

The incoming security crew knows when to expect the student exit activity to decrease through the video surveillance “heat” or activity mapping tools.  They wait until after this time to conduct the shift transition to avoid any missed incidents.

8 p.m.

The evening’s student dorm access control entries continue and security officers on patrol are ready to receive door activity alerts.  The door entries are silent until a door left open signal buzzes and automatically resets on door close.  Safety and security’s command responsibility is to review these door breaches on video and verify that no suspicious activity or “piggybacking” has taken place.  The simplified alarm “histogram” guides the operator to the video associated with the door alarm.  In this instance it was just a couple of students carrying in a replacement microwave oven.

Safe campus waiting areas have a good amount of pedestrian traffic as students and faculty board transport at prearranged locations around campus.  There is enhanced LED lighting, 360-degree network cameras, video analytics, wireless connectivity and an audio system at each one of these areas.  When someone approaches the waiting area, LED lights flash, providing a safety indication and alert to persons waiting there.  They then have the option to use their smartphone or call box as an alert device should they feel unsafe.

This time of evening also finds faculty and staff walking to their vehicles and using a “video escort” application on their smartphones.  If they confirm an incident, passively report and/or fail to check in while they walk to their cars or dorm, campus command is immediately notified and nearby cameras are activated.  The system has preprogrammed camera locations that are related to the alert’s location, which are programmed to the user’s smartphone or tablet.  About 20 students and faculty are using this application after hours and the system is ready to process any alerts.

10 p.m.

Our “day in the life” concludes with the security staff verifying cafeteria and facility supply deliveries.  Each of the delivering vendors has checked in online prior to delivery, entering their commercial trailer plate and approximate delivery window.  The embedded license plate recognition system automatically detects the plate on entry and exit, delivering an exception alert should the plate either not be in the database or failed to exit.  The safety/security officers work together with command and make a visual verification of the delivery into the transition space.  This particular vendor does not have to enter the secured building space for delivery, simplifying and shortening the process for both parties.  An HD network camera monitors the delivery transition area and the camera’s embedded video motion detector is active after hours.

Making It All Work

Each of the above examples is technology in action, enhancing the safety on campus and delivering tactical advantages to campus resources.  How do these solutions work and can the designer easily specify them?  Four categories used in our “day in the life” example include the following:

  • Design of video surveillance systems for forensic video “readiness”
  • Campus video mobility, supporting enhanced situation awareness and response
  • Image quality and video analytics supporting improved response to off-normal conditions
  • The maturity of license plate recognition (LPR) and how campus surveillance systems benefit

Forensic Video Readiness in Campus Security

When discussing campus security, recorded video and related featured data events are among the first and most important resources for incident review. But what is available in this data, and what are the opportunities for command center personnel, first responders, operations management and safety teams? To understand this, we first need to define what is included with this “forensic” video data and then apply a process for its use.

Digital Multimedia Content is more than just video data. This is digital data representing audio content, video content, metadata information, location-based information, relevant IP addresses, recording time, system time, and any other information attached to a digital file.

All of this information is valuable to the campus security professional either in real-time or for forensic use.  Applying an understanding of the effect of light on the scene can improve the image quality of the video content. Advances in camera technology that produce usable color or “find the light” in dark or low illumination scenes are improving forensic video content.

The design of the video solution to provide maximum coverage is of great importance for systems used for forensic review. Using standards-based, high-image quality sources like HD IP cameras and technologies to accommodate difficult lighting will improve the recorded image quality.

Video analytics is also of prime interest to the campus safety and security professional, aiding them in performing complex repetitive functions such as object detection and recognition simultaneously on multiple video channels.  These tools can provide improved searches, based on object characteristics and behavior.  These include metadata-incorporating object characteristics such as color, size, trajectory, location-based information, relevant IP addresses, recording time and system time.

Video analytics embedded in the network camera represents a growing segment where applications run and values or decisions based on recognition are available with the “edge” network camera and minimal software.

One popular example that can report student behavior at main entry/egress points uses a “people counter” where the network camera and built-in app return the number of people passing into a zone, through a boundary, or into the field-of-view. This information can provide criteria on which areas to increase camera frame rate and stored resolution during times of highest traffic.

Another popular video-recognition solution that runs either as an embedded network camera application or in the Video Management System is fixed license plate recognition and capture (LPR/LPC). This specialized app captures license plate information for immediate processing by LPR software. The software may run in a rapid-acquisition mode and compare plates later against an approved list, or perform the recognition sequentially as the vehicles pass within the camera field-of-view. In either case, LPR is a mature application embraced by campus safety for entry and exit locations.  The trend to embed this function reduces cost and allows greater flexibility.

“Heat” activity mapping provides a visual, color-coded summary showing how students, faculty and staff move about a campus. This type of video content analysis can improve safety by analyzing the flow of pedestrian and vehicular traffic on campus. Understanding personnel traffic flow will often help camera placement and ultimately the video forensic-review process. Integrated surveillance cameras and real time command and control will improve a campus safety and security operator’s ability to detect.

As campus safety and security professional, having the ability to create and implement credible policy and procedure, understanding appropriate response levels, possessing some technology acumen, and having an insight into strategic delivery of your plan, all work towards smooth day-to-day campus operations.

About the Author: Steve Surfaro is the Industry Liaison for Axis Communications. He is the chairman for the ASIS International Physical Security Council, a member of the Digital Video Subcommittee, a Security Industry Association Team Lead for the Standards, Video Quality in Public Safety Group.