A Universal Solution

Hillsborough Community College improve security infrastructure

In recent years, colleges across the country have upgraded and improved the way they monitor, assess and respond to security incidents on campus. Unfortunately for many departments around the country, the continuing economic downturn has led to budget and staff reductions, which in turn have posed a serious challenge to college police and security departments. As a result, campuses now have to rely on improved infrastructure and tools in order to police their respective populations more efficiently.

Emergency phones have been an important part of the security landscape at educational institutions for some time. Beginning as simple two-way communication devices, they have evolved into multipurpose tools for improving campus safety and security. Newer devices can not only provide needed assistance to distressed individuals, they can remotely monitor areas when officers aren’t available, tie-in with access control devices and video management systems and broadcast mass notification messages to large areas on campus.

Knowing that these tools are now available, many colleges have started looking at emergency phone towers as a way to leverage their infrastructure investment and compensate for cuts in budgets and staff.

Hillsborough Community College (HCC) in Florida has been at the forefront of adapting its security infrastructure and police force to unfortunate budgetary cuts and staff limitations. In order to overcome these constraints and properly police its 48,000-student enrollment, HCC turned to Talk-A-Phone Co.

A Towering Force

Victor Clime, chief of public safety for HCC, was introduced to Talk-a-Phone’s emergency phone towers that incorporate emergency communication, mass notification, camera surveillance and access control capabilities. He said the towers are able to increase the effectiveness, capability and response of the his depleted department.

“Our towers used to only be emergency phone towers,” Clime said. “We now have emergency phone towers with mass notification capabilities, cameras and other tools. Because of budgetary constraints, every safety department across the country thinks they’re undermanned. I certainly felt the same way. “These towers act as a force multiplier for me. They provide eyes and ears to my officers. They provide a voice when I need one. It allows us to quickly respond to situations and patrol more effectively. It was definitely an investment that was worthwhile.”

There are dozens of emergency phone towers installed across the college’s five campuses. Sporting a safety blue color and intense LED blue light on top, the towers are hard to miss during both day and night. The number, size and visibility of the towers create an easily identifiable perimeter around and throughout each Hillsborough campus.

“We even have them in our most remote locations,” Clime said. “Students are aware that these units are around. While on campus, you can’t look in any direction without seeing a tower. They remind students and visitors that my guys are always ready and watching. I know that students appreciate them, and I know my officers do, too.”

A Potentially Vital Connection

The towers act as a two-way communication device with an uninterrupted connection. This means that a person needs only to activate the tower once in order to have a continuous connection to the campus police or dispatcher. This feature is especially helpful for people who need the use of their hands during an emergency. Additionally, every time a tower is activated, the exact location of the unit is relayed to the dispatch center. This saves the dispatch center time in trying to figure out the location of the call, especially if the person who activated the tower does not know his or her location or cannot respond verbally.

“When someone activates a unit, our department immediately knows their location and what’s going on,” Clime said. “This has shortened our response time and improved our service provision to the college as a whole.”

In order to police the college’s sprawling campuses, the chief maximized the efficiency of his patrolling police force. With a lack of officers available, Clime again saw his new emergency phone towers as the solution. Extended on an architectural CCTV arm above each tower are dome PTZ cameras that provide surveillance before, during and after an activation. With these cameras, Clime’s dispatch center was able to watch all areas of campus while working shorthanded. The towers act as patrolling officers, relaying up-to-date information at a moment’s notice.

“We’ve had instances where we’ve identified suspicious activity on campus through our cameras,” Clime said. “In one case, we had someone trying to break into several vehicles on the far side of campus. Students saw this and activated a tower. We saw this through our cameras, and our department responded immediately. We were able to catch the person and stop the crime.”

Furthermore, the cameras can help identify people during an activation— not only the person who activates the unit but others who are at access control points and gates, as well.

Whole Campus Protection

Another benefit for Clime and his officers is the mass notification capabilities of the towers. Near the top of each tower are four highpowered speakers capable of providing 360-degree coverage.

“Hillsborough Community College had to be in compliance with mandates, issued by the Department of Homeland Security, requiring mass notification capability across campus,” Clime said. “What was great about our new towers is that they not only provide us with emergency communication and ‘eyes in the sky,’ but they also include mass notification capabilities.”

During an emergency event, there may be a need to send out a mass notification message. Visitors, faculty, staff and even students may not have immediate or direct access to college emails, texts or other lines of communication. The towers cover any of those voids and make sure that if a message needs to be sent out, everyone on campus will receive clear and detailed information. The dispatch center can broadcast from towers individually or in groups. This allows Clime’s department to send specific messages to some or all areas of campus with ease.

This article originally appeared in the January 2013 issue of Security Today.

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