Security on Campus

April 10, 2014
Integrators weigh in on how to deploy technology, generate RMR, and ultimately break into the market

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.

“We built a state-of-the-art command center with video monitoring,” Komisar explains. “They started pulling in cameras from all these departments, so the individual schools can manage their independent systems, but we tied them all into the enterprise system so the police can monitor them, respond to incidents and do guard tours.”

While higher education is the first market segment that comes to mind when you mention campus security, the campus environment extends well beyond education into corporate, industrial, healthcare and other markets.

While a corporate campus, for example, will likely not be faced with the variety of disparate systems that may be found on a university campus, the holistic approach usually still applies. David Stansell, President of Stansell Electric Co., of Nashville, Tenn., ran into this when designing a security upgrade for a corporate headquarters campus with more than 700 employees. The campus was so large that it averages 100 visitors per day and actually hosts events for the city and county it resides in.

“To begin defining the project scope, we first had to understand their standard operating procedures relative to employee work schedules, visitor management and physical security,” Stansell explains. “As we listened to the customer describe the issues they had experienced with the old system and what they would like to see in a new system the project scope began to shift from the one-for-one system upgrade they had originally requested to a design utilizing multiple interior layers of security providing the flexibility needed based on the uses of the facility, multiple user interface options, video integration, visitor management and enterprise scalability.”

Choosing the Right Technologies

A campus environment offers a multitude of opportunity for the use and deployment of different technologies. Since most campus environments today already have a primary and secondary network backbone, it makes the selection and installation of IP-based equipment that much easier. “Any system capable of leveraging the bandwidth and redundancy of existing network infrastructure is more cost effective and flexible than ‘box’ systems of just a few years ago,” Stansell says.

Additionally, major security-related events of the past have spurred a massive increase in risk assessment on campuses — resulting in a change in the way these technologies are chosen and deployed. “When we first started doing universities, it was doors first, protect the kids, and protect sporting venues with a lot of people,” Komisar recalls. “That’s where we started, but now with the increased awareness, everyone is starting to do classroom doors and classroom building perimeters. Mass notification is also very important now, and most of the campuses out there still don’t have it. They do have mass notification via email and text, but audio speaker systems are still lagging.”

One solution to the audible, campus-wide emergency notification problem can be accomplished through the ubiquitous emergency phones — from suppliers such as Code Blue, Talk-a-Phone and Gai-Tronics — that dot most campuses. “Now that they have been converted from hard-wired to IP phones, those pedestals are being converted into mass notification devices,” Komisar says.

“IP Video Surveillance is taking over as the product that most institutions build their security platform foundation on,” Patitucci adds. “In years past, that technology was access control, but that is not the case anymore. In order to get the most out of a VMS, high resolution IP cameras should be installed. Still, a total campus solution must also include access control, including burglar alarms. The ability to prevent unauthorized access to secure areas is still a major priority for safety and security.”

But what may be the most important technology is something that can provide a backbone for all of the other technologies on a campus, like the enterprise VMS deployed at Vanderbilt. “This is where a reputable security integrator earns their stripes — picking all or some of these solutions and getting them all to operate as one system,” Patitucci says. “Ease of use and reliability are a must during a serious event. The last thing the person responsible for the safety and security of an institution wants is to have to go to multiple disparate systems in the event of an emergency.”

Finding RMR

Uniquely, most large campus environments will not be looking for alarm monitoring or other managed services — they have their own hefty IT departments and police departments, so they monitor all the alarms, video and access in-house.

“The best RMR we have on a large campus is our service and maintenance package,” Komisar says.

Still, there is plenty of room to add to those service contracts with the cloud. “For smaller universities, we are doing a lot more managed services, such as remote access control.”

“As technologies evolve and the cloud becomes more prevalent and accepted, security companies have the ability to host systems in highly secure, cloud-based environments,” adds Patitucci. “With this model, a company or institution no longer has to worry about the added cost of procuring and maintaining servers, software licenses, software and hardware upgrades, and/or the personnel to support and monitor those systems.”

Breaking into the Market

As is the case with many market segments, breaking into the campus market will require the proper foundation. “You have to be able to do enterprise-level systems,” Komisar says. “You must have an engineering department and produce AutoCAD drawings. You also need the 24-hour support staff that are certified and trained.”

Still, the basic message for integrators trying to land business in this rapidly expanding market is simple, and it applies to all areas of the security business: “As with any market, learn your customer’s business so that you can truly understand and meet their needs,” Stansell says.
“Learn to become a trusted partner and advisor — not just the ‘sales guy’ that runs in after an event and tries to sell them the latest trinket,” adds Patitucci. “Strive to become a Subject Matter Expert. Become a resource.”

Paul Rothman is Editor-in-Chief of SD&I magazine (

Inside the Mind of the Active Shooter

Knowing your adversary is the first step to stopping the worst enemies on campus, the active shooter. Check out this incredible look at the psychological motivations of a few of the most notorious perpetrators of school shootings, along with strategies to assess the threat and recognize warning signs — from our sister publication, Security Technology Executive — at

Exclusive Webinar: Hardening Campus Security

Learn more about the cutting-edge methods school officials are using to mitigate risks on their campuses, such as social media monitoring, situational awareness training, credential enhancements, and how they are blending in traditional security technologies to create a safer environment. The webinar, sponsored by HID Global, Quantum Secure and IQinVision, will be broadcast live on April 10 at 1 p.m. EDT, and then will be available 24/7 in the archives at

About the Author

Paul Rothman | Editor-in-Chief/Security Business

Paul Rothman is Editor-in-Chief of Security Business magazine. Email him your comments and questions at [email protected]. Access the current issue, full archives and apply for a free subscription at