Ask The Expert

This month's expert offers insight into security at elementary schools and college campuses

WHILE on campus, a college freshman notices his backpack -- which contains his identification card -- is missing. He reports the loss to the campus police and is reissued a new smart card ID. The old card is immediately invalidated. Then officers wait for someone to use it. When the access system reports an attempt to enter the freshman's dormitory using the invalidated card, campus police are quickly dispatched and apprehend the suspected thief. This type of activity is only one example of how security on university and college campuses differs from K-12 schools.

ISSUE: What are some of the major differences in maintaining security on a university/college campus versus that of a K-12 school site?

SOLUTION: The sheer number of people being monitored makes a significant difference. Including students, faculty, staff members and visitors, there can be anywhere from thousands to tens of thousands of people on a large university campus at any one time. And college campuses also are typically much more open and, therefore, more easily accessible to potential criminals. Campuses are larger, and the buildings are bigger and more numerous. Late-night sporting events and concerts draw traffic and large regional crowds unseen on the average K-12 school site. And perhaps most importantly, university and college campuses may also have a large number of students living on campus.

ISSUE: What are some useful strategies to help protect people and property on a widespread campus that is accessible to the public at all times?

SOLUTION: From dormitories to potentially sensitive research laboratories, the first step is making sure that people have access to only those areas where they belong. Smart cards are great because they simplify access control, providing ease of access, flexibility and economy.

The flexibility allows the professor needing 24-hour access to his project immediate entry into his private research lab while a student's smart card may limit access to regular class hours. Card readers allow security personnel to monitor who has accessed specific buildings and when. Software systems designed to manage smart cards also give people like the professor direct control over who gets into his lab. Distributing access management for specific readers or areas to department stakeholders helps ensure greater accountability for who gets in where and keeps the cost of ownership down.

The cards may also be programmed for a variety of other uses such as purchasing food in dining commons, checking out library books or reserving recreational facilities or equipment. Today's larger college campuses may have more than 1,000 card readers and thousands more alarm points monitored by the access control system. And the cards are cheaper and more easily replaced than keys if lost or stolen.

For areas requiring a higher level of security, biometric readers can be employed. A professor and his graduate assistant studying the Ebola virus, for example, may be subject to a retinal scan or fingerprint ID in order to enter their lab.

ISSUE: What are some additional methods to ensure 24-hour campus security?

SOLUTION:While video surveillance cameras are beginning to appear frequently at K-12 schools, most college police and security officers have relied on the technology for years. Cameras can provide many more "eyes" on campus to assist the police. Properly located, cameras can serve as a deterrent to crimes against people and property, and as a tremendous forensic tool -- along with digital video recorders -- for investigating criminal activity. And cameras can provide an oasis of safety in a sea of parking lots or remote campus areas.

For example, a young female student walking from the library late at night notices a stranger following her in a now-deserted parking lot. She runs to a call box, hits the panic alarm and is immediately put in voice contact with campus police. Cameras pan to the site and provide live video. Under the watchful eye of the police, the student waits until an officer arrives to escort her safely to her car. If the system captured digital video of the potential attacker, digital video can be e-mailed to surrounding law enforcement agencies, increasing the likelihood of a suspect being apprehended.

When parents send their children off to college, they expect them to be kept safe while on campus. With the large size of many universities and the openness of most campuses, security is a major challenge. Before installing or upgrading an electronic security system on a university campus, contact an experienced systems integrator to help with equipment selection and installation plan.

This month's question from a reader asks:

ISSUE: I'm in charge of security for a small, regional bank. We have 35-millimeter film cameras mounted behind our teller stations and at the main door. When we have a robbery, our tellers push a floor button to take pictures of the suspect. It then takes an hour to get film processed and pictures printed. I know about the advantages of digital video -- particularly the ability to immediately e-mail still or live-action video to law enforcement officials. But I recently heard an FBI agent say he prefers film cameras for what he said are better photos. What are your thoughts?

SOLUTION: There is no question that a properly adjusted 35-millimeter film camera is capable of producing a higher resolution image than the standard digital video recorder, but the new generation of high-resolution, megapixel IP cameras have closed the gap. These IP cameras are capable of producing 3- or 4-megapixel JPEG images that can be stored and used for evidence. All things being equal, an 8- x 10-inch print from a 4-megapixel IP camera is indistinguishable from a print made from a 35-millimeter film camera. Most IP cameras also have alarm inputs where floor buttons or other alarm devices can be connected. Images can be captured and transferred automatically to a server for immediate distribution to law enforcement either electronically or in printed form. Some megapixel IP cameras also are capable of storing images at the camera by using a micro-drive, flash card or other storage device.

Other options to consider are some of the intelligent video solutions in the market that can help identify threats. One such solution is facial recognition. This could assist not only in identifying potential criminals based upon information from law enforcement, but also individuals placed on fraud alerts by other branches. These types of video intelligence or analytics will eventually be incorporated into IP cameras and placed on the "edge" of security.

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