Emergency Communications is a Blue Light Special at UK

March 15, 2016
University of Kentucky unified its video and emergency management process with Talkaphone’s communication towers

The University of Kentucky (UK), nestled in Lexington, is home to over 29,000 students, 2,000 faculty members, and 12,000 staff members. The 813-acre campus is adjacent to downtown Lexington and includes residence halls, classrooms, offices, athletic and recreational facilities as well as the Chandler Medical Center.

In 2012, the school sought to consolidate its security under a more unified system with University of Kentucky Police Department (UKPD) leading up the project.  “There were 72 legacy systems on campus when we started,” said Tom Sorrell of CMTA Inc., the security design consultants for the project. “We wanted to set a security standard for the university going forward. Now all ongoing and new projects that are added follow this standard that includes Talkaphone towers.”

The project scope included integrating separate Security Management Systems (SMS), Video Management Systems (VMS) and Mass Notification Software (MNS), Cisco UCM/Singlewire InformaCast, into one cohesive system. The campus also decided to address their current antiquated emergency call stations.

“The towers were unsightly and not strategically placed to reflect the modern day University pedestrian traffic flow,” explained Joe Monroe, Chief of Police at the University of Kentucky. The existing towers housed analog emergency call stations. As part of the university’s initiative of transitioning to a more unified system, project leaders decided to migrate to a Voice over IP (VoIP) call station system that would integrate with the new SMS, VMS, and MNS platforms – this initial rollout included 28 towers.

“The UK Alert Blue Emergency Notification Towers are comprised of Talkaphone's VOIP-500 Series Call Stations and WEBS-MT/R Towers. The Talkaphone solution is integrated with UK's VoIP phone system; this close tie-in results in a much more streamlined and robust notification system,” said Talkaphone Vice President of Product Management, Clarence Wong.

Blue light emergency towers, such as the Talkaphone WEBS towers, have several main benefits. First, they promote awareness. Such as the case at UK, students, and parents, as well as faculty and staff, feel safer with a visible security presence throughout the campus. During their research, UKPD discovered that the emergency blue light towers were a big positive for both students and parents. 

“The units have been instrumental in making our students feel safer as they walk at night,” remarked Captain Monroe. “[They] see the blue light on top of the towers and realize that they are on cameras and within a close distance of one button push calling for help.”

Second, blue light towers and emergency call stations serve as a deterrent. While stopping all crimes from happening is an impossible goal, deterring them from happening in the first place is achievable.  One of the main goals of the UKPD prior to deployment was to utilize the WEBS towers as threat deterrents and to help improve response time to emergencies.

Third, the WEBS towers chosen by the campus serve as a base of communication between UKPD and people on campus.  The police department encourages the use of the Talkaphone products on campus for everything from emergencies to wayfinding. “They are a very visual part of the campus security system rollout. The blue lights stand out across campus,” said Sorrell.

Not only do the Talkaphone WEBS® towers house IP emergency call stations, they are also enabled with outdoor broadcasting capabilities.  Standing over ten feet tall, these towers provide 360-degree coverage for message broadcasting with four 40 watt speakers producing 123 dBA at one-meter on-axis. The integrated broadcasting system gives UKPD the ability to notify students who may not have signed up for emergency text or email notifications. Since the passing of the Clery Act, universities are required by law to notify students of emergency situations and criminal activity on campus.

“What we did was to look at how we could maximize the use of the towers and we chose the tower version that let us have the ability to utilize emergency phones that operated on a digital network,” added Captain Monroe. “We also chose to have each tower have a camera on top along with using the WEBS [towers] for expanding our emergency notification to the campus instead of installing outdoor loud speakers.”

CMTA and Talkaphone worked closely with UKPD to determine the best locations for the WEBS towers to ensure the highest number of students, faculty and staff would be reached by the outdoor broadcast capabilities. They researched pedestrian traffic patterns to determine high volume areas in which to deploy the units. As the university expands, these same principles are applied to new installations.

The WEBS towers serve as one of the homes for the video analytics UKPD is utilizing; programs such as motion detection and line crossing. Line crossing is a VMS analytic program triggered when someone approaches the Talkaphone tower and crosses the digital line set by the security team. This allows the police to see the situation before the button is even pushed.

Samuel Shanes, Chairman of Talkaphone, is particularly proud of the deployment at the University of Kentucky. “Our sales and technical teams worked closely with the university teams, as well as their outside consultant, CMTA, in developing the specifications for that first phase of the deployment, and with our dealer partner, assuring a successful deployment,” noted Shanes. “The Talkaphone system is fully integrated into the University’s Cisco/Singlewire mass notification system, the other partners in this deployment.  The co-operation at every level made this the award winning mass notification system that it is.”

The five million dollar project resulted in increased visibility on campus, including but not limited to, 2,500 surveillance cameras, 7,500 SMS access control lock units and 28 emergency Talkaphone WEBS towers. “UKPD is [now] responsible for security technology enhancements which include access control, camera surveillance, ID operations and our Crisis Management team oversees the monthly testing of the units,” stated Captain Monroe.

The system has grown extensively since the original project, adding more towers and cameras at locations such as the dormitory areas, student center, and sports facilities.  “This deployment took a really concentrated team effort across our team at CMTA, the university, and Talkaphone and that was what really contributed to the success of the project,” said Sorrell.

The system has been well received by the outer and campus community. Captain Monroe and his team felt confident in the new security standards and were pleased when the system designed by CMTA was awarded the “Most Innovative Campus Security Project of 2014” at the annual Secured Cities Conference in Baltimore, MA.  The security system also went on to receive a 2015 National Honor Award from the American Consulting Engineering Companies. “The campus community expects a certain level of security on our campus and the Talkaphone system is a recognized as part of the system that has created a sense of enhanced security,” added Captain Monroe.