To The Chalkboard

Diagramming a multi-campus strategy

When police in Racine, Wis., issued an “attempt to locate” alert for a sexual assault suspect at Gateway Technical College, students received an email from campus security stating that the college had video footage of the event that might help authorities apprehend the culprit. As the story reached the local press, one blogger on Racine Uncovered, a website for crime news in the area, was quick to inform readers that, “[Gateway Tech has] really good cameras so they should have no problem seeing exactly what this waste of skin looks like.”

Video surveillance has become so commonplace at academic institutions like Gateway Tech that students surveyed about campus security often cite cameras as the main reason they feel safer walking to and from classes and dorms. As legacy analog technology begins to age and educational facilities grow within their local communities, colleges and universities are rethinking their strategies for effectively managing surveillance across multiple campuses.

The following two stories show how a suburban technical college in southeastern Wisconsin and an urban community college in metro Charlotte, N.C., are using IP-based technology to meet their security goals.

Gateway Technical College

When a campus survey revealed that many students at Wisconsin’s Gateway Technical College didn’t always feel 100 percent secure on campus, the administration immediately undertook a number of initiatives to change those feelings.

On top of hiring a professional security service to patrol each of its campuses more frequently, the college installed efficient LED lighting in the parking lots and more emergency call boxes along walkways.

Gateway Tech also turned to Technology Resource Advisors Inc. (TRA), a Wisconsin-based IT and security integrator, to assist in the design, planning and installation of a comprehensive video and audio surveillance system to help deter crimes and misdemeanors on its premises.

Central Piedmont Community College

When Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, N.C., upgraded to a robust new framework to digitally connect the main college with its six satellite campuses, the Information Technology Services department decided it was an opportune time to retire its aging analog surveillance systems and seek out an IPbased solution.

The idea of an all-IP system dovetailed perfectly with its open standards philosophy. College security asked that the new system include high-resolution cameras that would capture crucial details necessary for security personnel to do their jobs more effectively and provide critical evidence to local police if necessary. They also wanted a system that could provide intelligent analytics such as motion and audio detection to help them spot potential trouble before it escalated.

The GTC Install

TRA helped Gateway Tech replace its assortment of standalone DVR-based analog equipment with a networked video/audio solution. Analog cameras that had not reached their end of life were network-enabled with video encoders so that they could be integrated into the new IP-based surveillance system. For the cameras, TRA suggested the college standardize on vandal-proof PTZ and fixed domes with HDTV resolution and audio capabilities to ensure the highest quality for forensic needs.

To coordinate the entire system, Gateway Tech integrated with an enterprise- level Milestone video management system. Surveillance video is stored locally at each campus, allowing authorized staff to monitor live feeds and review archived footage of their respective campuses. As an added layer of safety, TRA configured the system so that the main security station at the Kenosha campus could simultaneously monitor the cameras across all its campus properties.

TRA then mixed and matched Axis Communications IP cameras for each unique surveillance challenge across the campuses. The school deployed vandalresistant, fixed-dome IP cameras at every entrance with an eastern or western exposure; the cameras’ wide dynamic range features are designed to best handle the ever-changing range of lighting conditions at such locations. True day/ night ability with an automatic IR-cut filter also proved critical to providing better identification of people going through those choke points.

In windowless hallways where lighting was fairly consistent, TRA recommended vandal-resistant, fixed-dome network cameras without WDR, which still provided the crisp image quality Gateway authorities wanted but at a lower price. PTZ cameras with a 120-degree field of view were also installed either vertically or horizontally, depending on the scene, and provided wide coverage of indoor spaces.

Finally, TRA pole-mounted outdoor- ready PTZ dome network cameras in rear parking lots and equipped them with responders to automatically pan and zoom to nearby emergency call stations in case a panic button was pushed. Because of the parking lots’ distance from campus buildings, TRA used Firetide access points to create a wireless connectivity link from the lot cameras to the network.

The CPCC Install

Central Piedmont Community College’s ITS department took an active role in its installation, integrating a mix of HDTV-quality fixed dome and PTZ network cameras at each campus. By piggybacking on the new high-performance network that had been built to support the growing demand for voice and streaming video, the college was able to maximize video quality. Axis IP cameras were connected via an openstandards interface to an ipConfigure VMS that allows college security to monitor the cameras at all seven campuses from a central dispatch station. Video encoders were installed to digitize the few analog cameras that had not yet reached their end of life so that they could communicate with the VMS.

The 400-plus cameras are monitored 24/7 using a bank of four large-format monitors. Motion detection analytics automatically promote the video streams with active motion to the forefront of the video wall to help security staff work more effectively. Additionally, a custom screen allows security to keep close watch over some of the higher- risk areas at peak times of the day.

And because the ITS department led the 400-plus camera install, CPCC was able to stay ahead of the potentially daunting task of managing each device by customizing the Axis Camera Management tool to streamline installation and maintenance at the seven sites. ITS is able to make system-wide changes to the network cameras—such as altering passwords, adjusting common settings or updating firmware—from the VMS server on the main campus. To ensure quality of service, ITS programmed the system to give surveillance traffic network priority over other non-priority traffic, as when 1,000 students simultaneously stream the latest YouTube hit.

To keep bandwidth consumption to a reasonable level, CPCC also takes full advantage of advanced H.264 compression technology. To lower bandwidth demand even further, ITS uses the cameras’ multi-streaming feature to archive higher-quality video on the local servers at each campus for forensic review while transmitting lower-resolution video to the main campus dispatch center for live monitoring.

The GTC Result

“We aimed the cameras with the narrowest field of view and the highest resolution at the driveways to catch the license plates and facial features of the drivers,” said Thomas Reminga, CTO of TRA.

Because the surveillance system is network-based, Gateway Tech staff can now access the video from their homes or while on the road through a secure portal—an especially useful feature during weekend snowstorms when administrators need to make sure the plows have cleared the parking lots before school opens. Because of the network-based setup, security can remotely operate the PTZ cameras and override the guard tour program if they want to zoom in for a closer look at an event in progress.

The new surveillance system has been so successful that word-of-mouth about the existence of video footage caused a thief to anonymously return a faculty member’s laptop to an unmanned security desk. As it turned out, the person wasn’t even a Gateway Tech student, so the college would have been hard-pressed to track him down.

The college also credits the new surveillance system with keeping renovated classrooms and commons areas looking like new. Gateway Tech prominently posts signs at every entrance stating that its campuses are under surveillance.

“Word is out that if you come on our campus, expect to be recorded. If we catch you throwing a punch, we’ll be able to identify who you are and you’ll face disciplinary action,” said Ray Loukari, dean of campus affairs at Gateway Tech’s Racine campus. “Thanks to our network surveillance solution, we’ve really boosted our reputation as a safe environment for our students and staff.”

The CPCC Result

The use of multi-streaming is an oftoverlooked IP benefit that is helping CPCC administrators augment access control. At the receiving dock of the Culinary Arts building, for instance, the video is streamed in three directions: to the security dispatch center, to the local campus server and to the desktop of the building’s administrator to remotely monitor food deliveries. When a delivery person calls for admittance to the loading dock, the administrator can click on the camera icon on her desktop, call up live video and identify the individual before buzzing him or her into the refrigeration bay.

While the college uses IP cameras to monitor emergency call stations, parking lots at each campus and the cashiering station at the main campus, the majority of the cameras are installed in the four multi-story parking decks at the main campus to give security staff full visibility in the garages and an eagle’s eye view of the campus.

To capitalize on a strategic vantage point into the heart of downtown Charlotte, ITS leverages PTZ domes on some of the parking deck stair towers. From that height, security gains a panoramic view of the two main roads and a key intersection into the main campus. The college has given local police access to those stair tower cameras during NASCAR events and city festivals to monitor activity on the crowded downtown streets and improve public safety.

The new IP system has provided campus security and the Charlotte- Mecklenburg Police Department critical forensic detail during a number of occasions. In one instance, video gave police not only the make, model and license plate of a stolen vehicle but also the make, model and license plate of the car that dropped the thief at the parking deck. The high-resolution cameras even caught a perfect face shot of one of the individuals involved, which led to the recovery of the car in less than 24 hours. While the college uses video analytics to match license plate numbers with its own campus database, at some point the administration hopes to tie in with the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation’s license plate database to assist police in locating stolen vehicles or cars flagged by the bureau for other reasons.

“This kind of synergy is especially valuable in an urban environment like ours where there’s no real distinction between public and campus safety,” said Patrick Dugan, interim executive director of CPCC’s Technology Infrastructure Systems.

Multiple campuses, multiple designs— yet everyone is on the same page.


This article originally appeared in the September 2012 issue of Security Today.


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