Connecting The Campus

Outdated systems could not be integrated with new technology

SAINT JOSEPH’S UNIVERSITY IN PHILADELPHIA, ONE OF 28 JESUIT UNIVERSITIES AND COLLEGES IN THE UNITED STATES, IS THE SEVENTH OLDEST JESUIT UNIVERSITY IN THE COUNTRY AND CURRENTLY RANKS AS A TOP UNIVERSITY IN THE NORTHEAST. THE CAMPUS IS SPLIT BETWEEN THE OVERBROOK NEIGHBORHOOD OF PHILADELPHIA AND LOWER MERION TOWNSHIP WITH A BRIDGE CONNECTING THE TWO SIDES OF THE CAMPUS. ITS 82 BUILDINGS ARE SPREAD ACROSS 114 ACRES. ALONG WITH A STUDENT BODY OF APPROXIMATELY 8,700, MORE THAN 100 JESUITS LIVE ON CAMPUS WITH 18 SERVING AS FACULTY.

THE FINAL LEG

The university is heading into the final leg of its strategic plan, Plan 2020: Gateway to the Future, which focuses on increased academic distinction, facility enhancements and endowment growth. As part of the facility enhancements, it was deemed necessary to replace core systems throughout the campus that related to life safety and security.

Most of these systems were outdated with technology that could not be integrated. This created operating, managing and monitoring inefficiencies and the potential for security risks. As an example, specific video from an incident was not easily available for review or distribution, making follow up investigation less timely. A comprehensive design was needed that would create a centralized platform for control of the various disparate systems, upgrade the existing field equipment, such as emergency phones and fire alarm panels to offer system redundancy and provide an upgrade path to develop a fully integrated, state of the art solution.

The undertaking would involve more than 100 fire alarm panels, 125 intrusion alarm panels, almost 200 emergency phones and 600 video surveillance cameras. Further, once a design had been accepted and a vendor awarded the contract, the new system would have to be installed quickly over a period of just two and a half months during the summer break.

IT IS ALL ABOUT TIMING

The key to the plan was project management, resources/talent, strong manufacturer relationships, financial stability, communication skills and dedication. Access Security Corporation of Warminster, PA consistently exhibited these essential capabilities and was awarded the contract.

“It wasn’t only important to get the right system, it was also important to get the right vendor partner,” said Joe Petragnani, associate vice president for infrastructure services, Office of Information Technology, Saint Joseph’s University. “We all agreed that Access Security was the right partner for us.”

The original outline, created by staff from the IT, Facilities Management and Public Safety departments of Saint Joseph’s, was expanded upon and enhanced by the team from Access Security with assistance from SureView Systems, developers of the Immix CC Physical Security Information Management (PSIM) platform. The Immix platform replaced the antiquated central station software and integrated the fire alarms, intrusion systems and the university’s camera system into a single control platform providing optimum control and efficiency. The Immix Command Center enterprise software provides a stable, timetested solution that is simple, user friendly and easy to learn.

“This was a key reason we partnered with SureView Systems on this project,” said Daniel Cogan, president of Access Security, “A major component of this system was monitoring of the life safety systems for all of the University’s buildings. We needed a solution that we knew would work well in emergency management and response situations.”

When an alarm comes into the command center the security staff is presented with a set of standard operating procedures (SOPs) within the Immix software. The SOPs are step-by-step instructions that take the security monitoring officer through handling a situation; including linking the specific video cameras that will help the officer assesses the situation. This can be anything from an invalid card read to an emergency panic alarm.

All of the actions made through the Immix Command Center software are logged and captured, including the video making it easy to investigate incidents after the fact. The Immix software also allows for client access from anywhere on campus using the browser interface and access via an iPad or tablet. This allows the university’s security and facility staff to remain mobile during emergency situations. Saint Joseph’s plans to expand their system in the near future. The expansion will include integrating the access control system and emergency phones into the Immix platform furthering the university’s overall goals.

Using the Immix platform also allowed Saint Joseph’s to deploy the software within their VMware environment. Rob Hile, former director of Enterprise Command Centers at SureView Systems said, “We are proud to say we were the first PISM platform that functions flawlessly in a virtual environment.”

Deploying the Command Center software in a virtual environment was essential to accomplishing the university’s redundancy goal. Saint Joseph’s already had numerous systems on its VMware servers and incorporating the command center software into the VM environment was a natural fit. The university also has a unique configuration for their redundant data centers.

Because the university’s campus spans between Philadelphia and Lower Merion counties, their data centers are on two separate utility power feeds giving even more protection in the event an emergency response is needed.

Before any of the new management software could be implemented though, Access Security had to upgrade the old central station receivers. The original system had one receiver being used for fire alarm panels and the other for the intrusion alarm panels. As part of the overall concept to provide redundancy, Access Security proposed installing two new IP receivers that were installed in a primary/backup configuration. These were even installed in separate buildings to ensure alarms signals were received at the command center.

“We understood the importance of the command center receiving every alarm signal and we took every step available to design a system with that goal in mind,” Cogan said.

Changing to this configuration meant reprogramming all of the existing fire alarm and intrusion detection panels. To improve the reporting functionality, Access Security also re-programmed all of the panels to report specific point ID alarms to the central command center, as opposed to simply reporting general alarm conditions. This allows the security staff, at the new command center, to know the precise location of the alarm condition before first responders are on the scene. The server and software for the emergency phone system was also upgraded at the command center with plans to eventually transition this system to an IP solution and then integrate it with the Immix platform.

“This is not a one and done,” Petragnani said. “It’s designed to be continually enhanced and upgraded.”

While the 600 analog cameras could not be replaced due to timing and budget restrictions, Access Security was able to upgrade the video surveillance system using IP video encoders. The video from the nearly 600 analog cameras was encoded using Exacq’s 4 Camera IP Video Encoders which replaced the individual DVR units that were in various buildings around campus. The future plan includes converting the analog surveillance cameras to IP megapixel technology. The encoders stream video over the VLAN to three Exacq VMS servers. Each server provides RAID6 storage with approximately 40 terabytes of usable storage. The University has plans to expand to five servers as the cameras are converted over to megapixel.

The system, recommended by Access Security, proved to be exactly what was needed. It allows users to easily identify needed video by scrolling back and forth, capturing the needed snippets and then posting them to executable files that can be easily shared to appropriate staff and security personnel.

“The system is incredible. It’s very easy to use,” Petragnani said. “It is safe and provides us with an enormous amount of redundancy. It gives us the capacity to handle what we have now and for a long time.” The system is monitored on a 24/7 basis at the newly designed control center on campus. The new command center consists of a Middle Atlantic ViewPoint series workstation and a VisionFrame floor standing video wall. The workstation is part of Middle Atlantic’s Sit/Stand series and allows the security staff to alter between a sitting and standing position while attending their station, providing a more ergonomic work environment.

The workstation has four 24-inch LCD monitors for viewing the various software components. The video wall consists of four 42-inch LCD monitors powered by a custom workstation, which displays alarm events and various camera views.

“We designed a workstation that was going to be efficient and comfortable while providing a professional appearance the University wanted as part of their overall concept,” Cogan said. Saint Joseph’s has also taken the innovative step of retaining Access Security as an on-site presence to manage and maintain the system to ensure optimal performance.

“We are very happy with the end results,” said Brian Shepherd, senior director of telecommunications and network services at Saint Joseph’s University. “We are confident that it provides an excellent platform necessary to achieve our long term goals. With the core components of the system now housed within the University’s infrastructure, future upgrades and additions will be easier and, more importantly; security and life safety throughout the campus is vastly improved.”

This article originally appeared in the July 2016 issue of Security Today.

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