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Ask the Expert

According to the Department of Education, there are an average of 15 murders on U.S. university and college campuses each year -- not taking into account the recent Virginia Tech shootings that resulted in 33 deaths. Then there are 2,500 rapes and 3,000 cases of assault that also occur annually, as well as many crimes that go unreported because the victims are too scared or embarrassed to come forward. All these incidents give school officials cause for dusting off security plans and reevaluating them.

ISSUE: University campuses are large and diverse. What steps can be taken to best secure them?

SOLUTION: Despite the open nature of a college campus, there are electronic security measures that can help protect students and assist security personnel in taking control of an emergency situation.

The first logical step in protecting students is to conduct a risk assessment of the campus to make sure that the plans and technologies in place are up to the task of meeting today's challenges. First and foremost, find a way to keep those who do not belong on the campus out. Access control systems can be used in order to keep people who are not enrolled in school out of vulnerable areas such as residence halls and classrooms. School ID cards can be scanned to allow students or staff into dorms, libraries, gyms and other campus facilities. If someone does not have the appropriate ID card, they will have to be checked in as a visitor or not allowed in at all. The cards also can double as an efficiency tool, allowing students to easily check out library books or use their meal plans at dining halls.

Video surveillance has become more advanced and is a vital tool for a good security system. Campuses usually feature a wide variety of facilities and remote and dangerous areas that should be monitored. Installing a camera system can help deter theft and vandalism, as well as attacks. When placed appropriately, cameras also can be used to aid law enforcement in investigations.

Panic button systems can be used by those who feel threatened and need to rapidly contact campus security to react in a crisis situation. These systems are highly visible and also may act as deterrents.

ISSUE: Communication during a crisis on campus is important. How can universities effectively communicate with their students during an emergency?

SOLUTION: In recent years, there has been increased interest in installations of mass notification systems on university campuses. This type of communication can be used to prevent people from being injured during an emergency. These systems allow school officials to send emergency and routine messages electronically to faculty, students and parents in case of a crisis. Messages can be sent via e-mail, text message, pager, voicemail or amber road signs -- virtually by any means of phone or Internet. This way, the campus community can receive instructions quickly, and the phone lines can remain open during the crisis. Some notification systems can even monitor exactly who receives the message and when. Outdoor mass notification systems have advanced far beyond the ordinary siren. They can communicate important voice messages clearly to all those within a quarter-mile radius.

There are other benefits to installing security systems on campuses besides the increased safety of students. They cut down on costs for on-campus security, who otherwise must patrol difficult areas. Security systems also help prevent liability issues and save money on vandalism and theft.

However, it is important to protect the most valuable assets on campus -- the students. Look for an experienced systems integrator, who has secured a variety of campuses, to help design a plan that fits your campus's unique security needs.

READER QUESTION: I am an office manager for a small, six-person professional services firm. Our files are full of highly sensitive client data that we must adequately protect. We have only two doors into the office, so a full-blown card access system seems a little over the top. Is there some type of door lock that would give us the benefits of a deadbolt with some of the advantages of an access control system? Price is a consideration, but protection of our client's data is most important to us.

SOLUTION: The first investment for a small firm with sensitive client documents is often a fire-safe file cabinet to provide protection from fire loss. Ancillary locking devices can provide added protection against forced entry.

Several major lock manufacturers have locking systems that combine traditional locks with access control system capability for securing the two office doors. An example is the Logic product line from ASSA ABLOY's Medico division. This hybrid product consists of digital keys and cylinders and offers many of the features of an access control system, such as scheduling, audit trails and the ability to easily add and delete user keys. These products install without any wiring, door or frame modifications or additional hardware. Most doors can be upgraded in less than five minutes.

Also, consider installing a traditional intrusion detection system to sound the alarm in the event of a break-in.

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