Ask the Expert

This month's expert, Marty L. McMillan, discusses campus emergency notification issues

University campuses are typically large, open spaces designed for free movement, which can create difficulties for any security installation, especially in an emergency situation.

Security at a university campus can be compared to that of a small city, with a variety of situations to deal with, from regular occurrences such as theft to more serious crimes like physical attacks and crisis situations. Campuses also are vulnerable to natural disasters such as tornados or earthquakes and to manmade disasters such as a chemical spill or attacks by gunmen.

ISSUE: In what ways can a security department adequately prepare for emergencies and mitigate loss of life when a crisis unfolds?

SOLUTION: After a risk assessment, create a security plan in conjunction with campus security officers, administrators and local law enforcement. Consult faculty, staff and students to find areas of vulnerability. Find a role for every member of staff, administration and faculty and ensure that all are aware of evacuation routes, lockdown procedures and first-response measures. When the plan is in place, practice it. Drill everyone at least twice a year to ensure that the plan will be effectively practiced if needed.

A big problem in an emergency is the lack of information, both to authorities and those involved in the situation. Uncertainty will increase panic among students and may cause them to move into dangerous areas of campus without realizing it. Mass notification systems can send direct, specific information to an area on campus or to individuals to ensure that everyone is aware of an emergency situation, where it is occurring and what the correct course of action may be.

ISSUE: What types of solutions should campuses consider for emergency notification?

SOLUTION: For outdoor use, fixed or mobile units of mass notification technologies are available. They use powerful speakers to send warning messages up to a quarter mile away. For indoor areas, such as classrooms or dormitories, a public address system can notify students of a potential danger. Systems with two-way intercoms allow those closest to the situation to provide upto- the-minute information to authorities.

Computer-based systems can transmit vital information to mobile phones, laptops or PDAs via e-mail, text messages or voicemail. Messages are more detailed than those provided by a loudspeaker system and include specific instructions. Messages also can be sent to commuters to advise them to stay away from campus. The speed of notification is extremely important in an emergency, and text messages can warn the campus community of a situation in a timely manner.

Campus emergencies may be unpredictable, but what can be anticipated is the response to the emergency. Talk to an expert about creating a security plan and discuss mass notification systems that will mitigate panic in an emergency and, even more importantly, save lives and protect property.

READER QUESTION:We are a small company with a steady number of visiting clientele. Recently, we have had problems with theft and are considering installing video surveillance cameras to resolve this issue. After doing some research, we found that there are dummy cameras available that can be used to deter crime. Would they be useful to stop theft and keep our costs down?

SOLUTION: In my professional opinion, you should not install dummy cameras for a multitude of reasons. People see cameras and instantly think that someone is watching, monitoring, recording them and protecting them. Criminals may be deterred by their presence. But, in this day and age, people looking to do something illegal already are aware of what is a real or fake camera. Thieves and robbers now even look at the age of cameras, how well maintained they seem or even if it is feasible that somebody is really watching them. In past lawsuits, there have been loses based on the illusion of security provided by a video surveillance system. In reality, the dummy cameras only provided a false feeling of security.

Rather than installing fake cameras or cheap, low-resolution cameras with a low-quality recorder, it is better to install fewer very high-quality cameras on a high-quality recorder that will provide good video evidence. Today’s video surveillance systems will, in most cases, provide you with a true return on investment.

The best investment is buying the highest-resolution megapixel cameras you can afford. Record them at a minimum of 4 frames per second, with 10 frames per second being better. The FBI says it takes at least 60 pixels per linear foot to identify someone on video, and a 1 megapixel camera has 4x the pixels of a 480-TV-line analog camera. A camera mounted on a 9-foot ceiling 30 feet from the target area, with a 20-foot view, will give you 64 pixels per linear foot.

This article originally appeared in the November 2008 issue of Security Products.

About the Author

Marty L. McMillan is president of Intelli-Tec Security Services.

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