Monumental Security

North American university finds success with major security overhaul

With a larger student population than any other university in North America and more than 200 facilities spread across three campuses, the University of Toronto is a vast and diverse institution, rich in history and culture. In addition to being internationally known and recognized for its research and teaching, the university is now a model of security, thanks to careful, coordinated planning and integrated technology.

Protecting a single building and its occupants is never an easy task, so for the university, improving security was a significant challenge. With nearly 12 million square feet of space, it had a lot of ground to cover. Plus, the volume of people created an extra layer of complexity: The university serves more than 70,000 students and has nearly 14,000 faculty and staff members. About 50,000 students attend the St. George campus, the university’s main campus, in downtown Toronto. The university also has locations in Mississauga and Scarborough.

Besides its notable size, the university has many historic buildings that provide a monument to the university’s past, dating back to the 1820s. University efforts have helped preserve the aged and artistic quality of campus buildings, but until recently, the security systems on the campuses also were firmly rooted in the past.

A Patchwork Approach
For years, individual buildings and university departments each took a different path when it came to security, creating a disparate, difficult-to-manage environment.

The only semblance of a campuswide system consisted of a small number of alarms running on a copper wire back to the university police station. Otherwise, buildings and departments forged their own way, leaving campus police completely disconnected.

“The previous measures were rudimentary at best,” said Dan Hutt, manager of campus police services at the University of Toronto. “We had a decentralized security operation, with everyone doing what they felt they should. And those efforts didn’t always sync up.”

One of the primary problems with this approach was the number of alarm companies involved on the campus -- each with its own nuances. When it came to response time, for example, the standards varied from company to company. While one vendor might respond within an hour, others could take as long as four hours.

And the alarms that did reach university police came with little information about source and cause. As a result, all alarms warranted a critical response and, many times, valuable police resources were wasted.

“Reacting to all alarms blindly is not an efficient way to manage campus security and ensure safety,” Hutt said. “We needed a common security platform and process for responding to and maintaining alarms and security equipment.”

A Major Overhaul
The inefficiencies culminated in a security overhaul, which began in 2002.

Sparked by both the police department’s move to a newer building and a collective desire within the university to update its parking-garage monitoring system, the university investigated its options surrounding a security upgrade. The police department also helped the university usher in a new era of security on its campuses, as it sought to establish a centralized monitoring system in place of the previous localized methods.

The university chose to make the change with Honeywell -- for one-third the cost of replacing the hardwired points of its old system and then gradually upgrading over time. The project centered on creating a more uniform approach to safety and security. To this end, the university installed the Honeywell Enterprise Buildings Integrator -- a platform that integrates core building functions, including security, surveillance, life safety, HVAC, lighting and energy -- for simplified monitoring from a single location. EBI serves as the backbone of the new security system and is managed by the police services department, with the department’s new central station on the St. George campus serving as the technology hub.

As part of the revamp, the university also installed Honeywell Digital Video Manager, a digital surveillance system and component of the EBI platform. DVM helped the university achieve its original goal for the parking garage -- converting analog camera signals to digital feeds, and eliminating the need for time-consuming and cumbersome video tapes. And because of the initial success with DVM, the system now includes more than 155 cameras spread across the St. George campus, with an additional 50 cameras in buildings on the university’s Scarborough campus.

In addition to DVM, the integrated security system includes approximately 550 card readers that regulate entry into specific areas on the St. George and Scarborough campuses. The readers are integrated with DVM and tied into EBI, serving as “trigger points” for alarms and surveillance updates.

When an alarm goes off, for example, the system brings up live video of the specific location, including floor plans and maps, which allows campus police to quickly isolate sources of alarms and respond to issues faster and with the appropriate staff.

Unlike the previous technology jumble, this system allows university police to view and manage all alarm signals internally. In addition, it has helped the university -- specifically Hutt and his police colleagues -- achieve an optimal mix of proactive and reactive security measures, reducing response time from hours to minutes.

“We’ve gone from simply monitoring surveillance systems to having a very sophisticated and smart security system,” Hutt said.

The new system also provides the flexibility and specificity required to match the needs of different parts of the campus. For some buildings, access control is primarily used to monitor after-hours access only, and the facilities otherwise remain unlocked during normal operating hours. Conversely, campus labs and other facilities with expensive equipment require higher levels of security and have more stringent access guidelines and control measures.

While campus dormitories currently do not fall under the scope of the access control system, the university may bring the entrance doors onto the system in the future -- a simple task given the flexibility of EBI. Another benefit: The smart access cards can be programmed to fit varying security credentials, as broad or granular as necessary.

An Essential Service
In addition to a more unified security platform, the university benefits from comprehensive service coverage.

As part of the coverage, the company has three onsite technicians at the St. George campus and one technician working full-time at the Scarborough campus. The technicians monitor and maintain the EBI, DVM and access control systems around the clock, and they make sure all the equipment is up to date with the latest software patches and technology enhancements.

“Honeywell handles all installations and commissioning,” Hutt said, “and when warranties run out, the company provides ongoing maintenance. We know they’ll keep everything functioning.”

Along with keeping systems up and running, the service agreement has helped save valuable administrative time and resources. Specifically, working to manage multiple systems and tasks under one comprehensive contract has enabled the university to reduce paperwork significantly, including purchase orders and invoices. The coverage also saves time previously spent obtaining quotes for upgrades and repairs, which often slowed work that needed to be done.

With the agreement, the university faces greater cost certainty as well, because all labor and materials -- including unexpected and emergency work -- are covered. The entire service process now runs smoothly and with less administrative hassle.

A Path Forward
Currently, 40 percent of the University of Toronto facilities are on the Honeywell platform. All new construction and major renovation work includes the installation of additional cameras and card readers. And the university plans to incorporate all existing buildings onto the security system eventually -- a task that will occur as funds become available, according to Hutt.

“We’ve made significant strides in modernizing security, and we plan to continue moving based on the results,” he said.

This article originally appeared in the June 2011 issue of Security Today.

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