Securing Today's Campus

It's a fact: College and university campus crimes are on the rise in the United States. Studies pointing to links between increased enrollment and a rise in attacks, and recent violent events at U.S.-based institutions of higher learning -- such as Virginia Tech in 2007, Yale in 2009, and the University of Alabama, Huntsville in 2010 -- are bringing campus security initiatives to the forefront of educational administrators' agendas. However, violent crime isn't the only risk that institutions of higher education face when it comes to security. Campuses may be home to sensitive research projects requiring restricted access or contain facilities with valuable, significant artifacts. This article will discuss measures school administrators can implement to provide a more secure environment for students and how these initiatives align with the overall goals of higher education.

According to 2010's "Campus Attacks: Targeted Violence Affecting Institutions of Higher Education,"1 violent attacks have risen on campuses in tandem with increased enrollment. What's surprising is that more than 60 percent of U.S. higher education crimes in the last century have occurred in the past two decades. Coupled with the challenges of having larger areas to secure and mandated government crime reporting, campus officials are faced with a huge challenge to protect students, faculty, guests, and university assets.

The majority (70 percent) of campus crimes reported during the past 108 years have occurred on-campus, while 19 percent were off campus and 11 percent were non-campus. "Off campus" is defined as entities that may be used by students or staff yet are not associated with the school, while "non-campus" refers to buildings that are officially recognized by the college, including athletic stadiums and university-owned hospitals. Most campus crimes are isolated to a single building, and 90 percent of perpetrators are affiliated with the college or university where the attack took place.

When Incidents Occur, Everyone Knows

In the age of Facebook®, Twitter®, texting, instantaneous news, blogs, and mass communication, physical barriers to rapid communication are virtually obsolete. In his book Socialnomics2, Erik Qualman shares some statistics that could be unnerving from a negative publicity standpoint in the wake of a major security incident at a school: 96 percent of Generation Y has joined a social network. Even more daunting: 80 percent of Twitter users are on a mobile device. People can make updates anytime, anywhere.

Highly publicized crimes, such as the "lacrosse murder" at the University of Virginia and the University of Alabama, Huntsville faculty shootings in 2010, typically grab international headlines. These crimes may not have been as visible in the news environment that existed as little as 10 to 20 years ago, but as demonstrated in Qualman's book, today's up-to-the-moment communication and social media accelerate the reporting of such incidents in near real time, all over the world.

Additionally, today's parents, guardians, and family members are able to stay in close contact with their college-aged loved ones with the likes of social media applications such as Facebook, Twitter, and Skype®, and they can follow such sites that are specifically associated with the school. Needless to say, these family members can potentially have an unlimited number of instant sources of information about the safety and emergency preparedness of the college or university their loved one attends.

With this age of instant information, school officials are now more challenged than ever to keep students, faculty, and property secure to maintain a positive public perception of their educational institution.

Addressing Campus Crime on Every Level

A school's main mission is to provide a relevant education for tomorrow's workforce. One must draw a fine line between overprotection of students and staff and providing a safe learning environment. Along these lines, what are some options for reducing or ceasing crime altogether? School leaders have many options to improve security measures and emergency preparedness, from metal detectors at building entrances to tracking suspicious behaviors or using texting for rapid, mass notification. With all of these ideas, ranging from a "big brother" mentality to possibly not putting enough security measures in place, how can university leaders provide the optimal balance of security and freedom on campus?

While finding the ideal solution can be very challenging, there are many measures that can address security on campus while not detracting from the main institutional goal of education. An optimal campus security plan has four main components: protect, secure, capture, and act. By following this four-part strategy, university officials can ensure a comprehensive approach of multiple measures for optimal safety on campus.

* Protect. Security officers gain value from integrated systems that include elements such as access control, fire safety, visitor management, intercom communications, video surveillance, and biometric verification. All of these solutions converge to deliver enhanced security. By aggregating data from disparate systems, integrated security systems give security staffers a comprehensive view of everything that is going on. They gain a deeper understanding and far more control over security events. Real-time, actionable information enables more accurate situational analysis and faster response to events.

For example, Texas A&M University installed integrated access control and video surveillance to monitor and secure highly valuable animal medications at its top-ranked veterinary school. Such measures can deter theft, protect people and assets, and detect and provide evidence of security breaches if they do occur.

* Secure. Safer environments are created when facilities are properly secured and security protocols are properly followed. A robust security infrastructure ensures all components work together to create effective layers of security. The concept is simple: Security countermeasures can be layered as one gets closer to mission-critical assets. An example of this could be secondary identity verification through the use of a pin code or other biometrics in sensitive areas, such as research labs, data centers, housing student records, etc.

If an event were to occur, what processes are in place to keep the incident isolated? An intrusion detection application can alert officials of an incident, and an electronic access control system can initiate an automatic building lockdown to prevent entry or egress in an at-risk area. One of the top U.S. research universities, Georgia Tech, protects its students and facilities with a campus-wide security system that integrates access control with video surveillance, intrusion detection, and centralized database management. The system operates over the existing campus LAN, saving the university capital costs, and features a single personal ID card that can be used for access control, security, and retail point-of-sale purposes. This solution also enables distributed administration for individual academic departments so that each department manager can grant appropriate levels of access and have complete control of his or her respective facilities.

* Capture. We all know how important it is to document a security breach, which is why the third step of an optimal security plan, "capture," can be of utmost importance.

For example, the federal government has tied financial aid under Title IV to crime reporting. To qualify for financial aid, higher education institutions must disclose and report all campus crimes annually under the Clery Act/Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act of 1990. Non-compliance with the Clery Act could mean forfeiture of up to 80 percent of government funding; not only do campus officials have to worry about dealing with a public relations storm after a major event, but also they must have detailed reporting mechanisms for any incident on campus.

Taking into consideration mandated crime reporting such as the Clery Act, reporting capability not only serves to capture actions of suspicious individuals, but also it can record incidents for future investigation and prosecution. Brigham Young University, for example, added security systems to increase surveillance capabilities and streamline reporting. The solution included more than 600 cameras to protect people and assets, including the $400 million BYU Special Collections, which includes rare books, photographs, and manuscript and archival collections.

* Act. Systems in place are not complete without a well-devised action plan. From the same security management system discussed previously, mass notification can be utilized to alert students quickly to stay away from an at-risk area. In the event of an unthinkable emergency (security or otherwise), this messaging also can be used to alert emergency contacts to information about loved ones on campus.

In addition to being a tool for emergency communications, this type of system is also proving to be of assistance as a communication channel to notify faculty and students when class is canceled because of inclement weather. Many schools are adopting this technology in the wake of the shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007.

What's the Bottom Line?

While campus security is obviously a key concern of college administrators, an integrated security solution also can provide an educational institution with additional value. An integrated security system can exchange data with school IT departments so that access cards can be used for student IDs, computer and network access, campus transportation, meal services and library use. Visitor management applications can be integrated with access control systems and interface with local or federal watch lists (terrorist, sex offender, etc.), thus enhancing safety and streamlining operations.

Schools that integrate campus-wide security systems also can reap financial benefits of reduced capital and operating expenditures when integrating systems such as security with energy management in a practice known as "green security." When a university finds the right combination of security and building performance measures, it can leverage this convergence of technology to save money and energy, which can be reinvested back into essential university projects.

Campus-wide security systems and well-implemented action plans can deter, detect, and delay crime, while enabling quick response times. Universities also can leverage existing infrastructure and minimize capital and operational expenditures, as well as see value from streamlining operations. Lastly, schools can gain surveillance and reporting tools to comply with the Clery Act. The challenge is to develop the appropriate level of security and control that grows with campus needs so that administration, students, faculty and guests are provided with the safest possible environment, while enhancing the primary goal of the university: to educate its students.


1. Drysdale, D., Modzeleski, W., and Simons, A. (2010). "Campus Attacks: Targeted Violence Affecting Institutions of Higher Education."

2. Qualman, E. (2009-2010) Socialnomics.


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