Painting a Secure University Education
City by the Bay even more secure with university’s enhanced security system
- By Mary Wilbur
- Oct 11, 2011
The Academy of Art University in San Francisco
has evolved from a loft studio for a handful of
students in 1929 to become the country’s largest
private school for art and design. The family-run institution understands that parents
want to be assured that their children are in a
safe and secure environment.
Academy President Elisa Stephens, the granddaughter of the
school's founder, Richard S. Stephens, has committed the academy to
an ever-expanding curriculum in order to stay current with new technologies
Closed Campus, Interactive Relationship
AAU leaders speak to the parents and students about safety in an
urban campus environment, where they have access to the design,
graphic, Web, photographic, architectural and environmental beauty
of San Francisco. While the campus itself is a closed environment,
the academy nurtures an interactive relationship with the surrounding
It’s not the same campus that grandfather Stephens established, and
it likely has different concerns. Richard Stephens was a fine-arts painter
and creative director of Sunset Magazine. He and his wife, Clara,
opened their new school in a rented loft at 215 Kearney St. As enrollment
grew, so did the distinguished faculty, which comprised art
and design professionals. By 1933, the curriculum had expanded
to include fashion illustration, and three years later, a fine art
department was established.
Today, more than 17,000 students call the academy home, a
place where they can earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees and participate
in certificate programs or continuing art education courses
with more than 30 areas of academic emphasis.
Similar to their counterparts of yesteryear, students today have
access control throughout all the facilities, where there are state-of-
the-art design facilities, galleries and collections.
Security on Foot
Roving patrols that provide security are as much a part of the academy’s
philosophy as its commitment to being “student-centric,”
meaning staff members will do what they need to do to benefit the
students. On a day-to-day basis, the academy’s security team
makes the decisions that will affect positive outcomes for student
security. This includes video surveillance, campus safety hosts at
buildings and desk guards in buildings where students must be
buzzed-in to enter.
“Video cameras are our best crime-fighting tool,” said Mike
Patricca, head of AAU security. “Video has solved the majority of
problems with teams of thieves stealing projectors and students’
computers. After we got hit a few times, we got video to help us
solve the problem as evidence, catching them in the act. The
thieves were arrested, then came back a second time and are now
doing time thanks to video surveillance.”
What brought it all together was implementing a video management
solution from Salient Systems of Austin, Texas. Security officials
and AAU staff alike knew the old legacy system had to be
replaced, so when a DVR went down, the transition from analog to
digital began to take shape.
Not an Overnight Process
Upgrading the security systems didn’t take place overnight. The
academy lists 29 properties as part of the university. Last year, it
added 30 cameras in the Del Monte Cannery area of San Francisco.
Security officials selected ACTi megapixel cameras, running all of
them on Salient Systems’ video management software.
“The amazing thing about this school is how they take care of
their students,” said Dave Chritton, partner and owner of Micro-
Biz, a San Francisco integrator. “When it’s time for the students to
go home, the Academy wants to make sure they make it there safely.
AAU manages a 24-hours communication center and has issued
access control badges for the students.”
The Cannery area at Fisherman’s Wharf is AAU's latest contribution
to its campus and the city. Academy officials selected CompleteView
video surveillance software as a force multiplier, which
monitors and manages every camera in the network. The software
allows the cameras to capture activities that officers may not see,
and it is available and accessible 24/7.
The Cannery landowners were excited to see the academy move
in. They instituted a revitalization plan for the area and added a
security system that not only protects their own interests but also
benefits the surrounding business owners.
CompleteView is proactive, with live video available to provide
real-time information for crisis management. Officers can know
what is happening before they enter a building or facility, resulting
in reduced risk in parking areas, cafeterias, lecture halls, large
social gatherings and athletic events.
“This is an IP-based system with a large server and recorder that
sends images back to the communications center,” Chritton said.
“AAU is the largest real estate owner in the San Francisco area.
They want excellent service, and security is a top priority.”
Security is critical on every level at the academy. The basic level
provides cameras and surveillance for the safety of staff and students
and includes on-premise guards and alarms for many properties.
The facility also employs a card access system and a high-tech
IP backbone developed by AAU's IT group. The academy has
20,000 active cardholders. Some 18,000 students access the campus.
“This really is about the students and their safety. When the
academy does something, the San Francisco community at large
benefits,” said Susan Toland, strategic initiative executive, Office
of the President. “By keeping our students safe and secure, we are
able to graduate talented and educated students who enhance the
talent pool by adding to the design and art economy as an emerging
Because AAU has deployed such an extensive camera and software
system, San Francisco police officers have come to rely on
the academy’s video of the perimeter and the properties the academy
uses. In one instance, a couple on vacation were walking on
an adjacent property, and the woman was shot and killed. An
important part of the incident was captured by campus video
surveillance, and the video assisted San Francisco police in prosecuting
The Salient solution has been used throughout the academy and
has been tested at the Jerrold Bus Center, where it tracks busses
and monitors the perimeter of the bus barn. It also helps record the
detail of license plates, and vehicles’ entry and exit times. Other
selling points of the solution were search and playback, and monitoring
screens in real time.
“We needed to replace the legacy system,” Patricca said. “The
current video management system provides a higher-resolution
image from the megapixel cameras, both inside the facility and on
the exterior of the buildings.”