Modernizing Security on Campus


As a parent, I am grateful that my daughters not only received a great education but had no major safety issues throughout their years in school.  However, as a security technology professional, I recognize that our school campuses are woefully in need of a major security facelift.  While school incidents have been on the rise, funding has typically not been allocated to school security investments over the past few years.  

As a result, schools have been compelled to do what they can with less manpower, aging security equipment, and out of date network technology.  The technology component of school safety, safety plans, procedures and governance are not addressed but are an integral part of school safety.

Device use is growing rapidly.  Today, students come to class with an average of 3 devices and the number is estimated to grow to 5+ devices by 2020.  Network availability, scalability and reliability are expected.  Protection of personal information is a major concern.  And security is paramount.  Outages, poor security footage, and lack of security governance cannot and will not be tolerated by students, parents or teaching staff. 

Networks are no longer incidental – they should be considered critical infrastructure.  IP-based networks deliver much more than computer data – they also support voice, video, access control, television, and a host of other services 24x7x365 and must be secured.  Networks must provide ubiquitous access to the students, faculty, administration, and visitors while supporting proper and secure segmentation, adaptability to new technology and future vision.  Additionally, by building failover and redundancy into the design, maximum uptime and bandwidth is ensured.   

And the network is just the beginning.  Security should always be designed to incorporate these four tenets:  deterrence (prevention), detection (alerting), delay (slowing the perpetrator), and response (both by the proper resources like police, fire, and medical and to the perpetrator(s)).   Below are some areas where security improvement will facilitate better protection of people, property and assets on campus. 

Surveillance – According to the Department of Education, 81% of schools had surveillance cameras which means 19% need new cameras.  However, a large percentage of the schools have analog cameras that are woefully out of date.  Existing analog cameras should be replaced with a minimum of a 2MP camera for indoor and 5MP for outdoor use and, depending on whether facial details are required, more powerful cameras might be needed.  If there are any areas where key features or actions are crucial, (replace with better ones).  Some cameras have analytic capabilities built-in like object detection, motion detection, and counting.   

Access Control – Today, access control must go well beyond locking entry doors at certain hours of the day.  Weapon detection at entry doors, facial recognition, camera-based door controllers, visitor and employee badging, and intrusion detection for areas that are available to only those individuals approved for entry should be considered.   Glass and window breaks should be a staple as well for undesired entry/exit notification.  While a majority of schools are monitoring entrance doors and/or gates, many do not use more than simple locks.  A large percentage of schools and campuses are missing effective electronic means of access control.  

Video Management System (VMS) – Managing surveillance and access real-time is just as important as having it!  Surveillance has typically been something to reference post-incident but, in today’s world, video capture can be used during an active incident to identify, locate, and determine actions and weapons of perpetrators and be instantly alerted to access attempts or breaches.  Look for VMS systems that are equipped with analytics, can notify security personnel in various ways, and can support both video and access control. 

Analytics – There are a whole host of analytics now available to help notify security personnel of a change in situation.  Some cameras now have analytics built in that can alert when someone is entering a restricted area, movement when there should be none, or an object has been left for a prolonged period of time. 

Personal security – In California, it is now mandatory for hotel personnel working alone in a guest room to be equipped with a panic button that instantly notifies security personnel there is sexual harassment, suspect activities, or threatening actions.  All campuses can and should provide a like device to students, faculty, and administration.   The purchase of this device can be incorporated into student fees (i.e. Technology or Security), effectively extending the cost to the parents/students in lieu of the university.

Mass Notification – When there is an incident on school premises, within the district or within proximity of the school, impacted parties (i.e. parents) can be notified by email, phone, or text.   Messages should be easily created or modified whether on school premises or remotely (i.e. weather closure, emergent event) and available 7x24x365.  The application should be installed in a highly secure environment or off-campus in a redundant data center (i.e. hosted/cloud offer).

Body worn or mobile cameras – Utilize these products to protect the university and officers from lawsuits that impact reputation.  It is also extremely useful for capturing footage that can be used for investigations, searches, and avoiding and/or supporting legal matters.

Parking lots and garages – Emergency call boxes are antiquated and blue lights do not provide adequate coverage.   Many parking garages now have full surveillance throughout the parking area, capture license plates, and alert to available parking spaces.  Panic alerting should also be conveniently available coupled with 2-way voice

Command and control in campus safety – In addition to campus/school security, interaction and communications with police and other external emergency response entities, other municipalities, and/or surrounding businesses is commonplace and facilitates faster and integrated response to incidents.

9-1-1 – All phones associated with the school’s telephony system must be able to dial emergency services without dialing additional digits or special codes.  22 of the 50 states have enacted Kari’s Law and will be in effect for all states in 2020.  Make sure the school telephony system has been updated or configured to support 9-1-1 dialing.

Security Dispatch – Once school/campus security is aware of an alarm or potential incident, there must be a way to effectively dispatch officers, communicate video images and/or building floorplan information, and relate video/audio capture to the incident report.  Mobility is key to allow security personnel to perform non-incident related tasks when not responding to an emergent situation or alarm.

IoT/Smart Buildings – Sensors are very effective in protecting critical resources such as electricity, water, carbon dioxide, and temperature as well as having control of lights, locks, and HVAC.  Additionally, these can be integrated into VMS solutions to trigger key personnel of an attempted breach or issue before critical infrastructure is affected.

In developing and implementing a multifaceted security program, there are a couple of other key points that should be top of mind.  First, most manufacturers comply with open standards-based products like ONVIF.  Because no manufacturer can provide all aspects of a secure environment, standards-based products are essential.  Proprietary protocols only prevent integration of third-party applications and products and are not considered more secure. 

Creating a comprehensive security program requires input from multiple parties within a school system.  IT, Campus Security, and Facilities Management, at minimum, should be engaged as well as administrative leadership. 

And lastly, emergency governance is vital.  Document school/district security policies, define emergency events and associated processes dependent on type and severity, and how to reach key security personnel. This is critical.   For example, there are times when mass notification causes more harm and could prevent a timely response.  A well-versed security integration company should be well-versed in all these topics and can assist with the security plan. The vendor can also be a vital member of the technology research process.  Most importantly, validate that the new technology enables these procedures post-installation.

With more than 35 years in the technology industry, Mindy has successfully guided product development, corporate operations and business development focused on communications, networking and security solutions. She has a passion for helping enterprises leverage compelling products and services to meet strategic initiatives and eradicate challenges.  Mindy is currently providing leadership for the Vigilant Platforms Physical Security Division of Alliance Technology Group in Hanover, MD.  

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