Safeguarding the Future

University of Kentucky rethinks security while revamping its campus

These days, the importance of campus security cannot be overstated. Universities face innumerable threats, the complexity of which increases with each violent incident like the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School or the bombings during this year’s Boston Marathon.

These considerations led the University of Kentucky in Lexington to spend nearly $5 million to overhaul its campus security, installing the campus’ first-ever comprehensive and centralized security system.

Phase one of the massive project broke ground last year and will continue through December. The remaining phases will continue for the next several years. The new system will involve an all new access control system, network cameras, a video management system with analytics and an integrated mass notification system, encompassing hundreds of buildings and the University of Kentucky Medical Center, a $600 million medical complex. The powerful system will be managed by campus police at their 24-hour communications center.

A Clear Need

UK is a public land-grant university that houses education, research and creative work, service and healthcare. It is Kentucky’s flagship secondary education institution, so naturally the university plays a critical leadership role by promoting diversity, inclusion and economic development.

The campus encompasses 900 acres and hundreds of facilities. Nearly 27,000 students attend UK, and 13,000 faculty and staff members work on campus. Like every other college and university in the nation, UK has always been committed to the safety of its students, faculty and staff. However, it had become clear in recent years that the campus’ security system was outdated, unorganized and ineffective.

Anthany Beatty, the assistant vice president for campus services at UK, has a unique perspective on the topic, after having served as a police officer on the campus in the early 1970s.

“I left campus for 35 years, went to local law enforcement,” Beatty said. “Then, I came back to the university and realized that overall campus security had not progressed very much in 35 years, in terms of keeping up with technology and systems that are now fully integratable. We weren’t taking advantage of all the things that were out there to secure the campus.”

After surveying the campus’ security needs, Beatty was determined to help update UK’s system, with a focus on centralizing each disparate piece of the puzzle.

“We set out on a mission to make sure that all the key players on campus are looking at the same information in terms of security,” he said. “We had many independent legacy systems operating on campus, but nothing was centralized. There was no standardized method of storing the video images or retrieving video imagery. We conformed to the state standards for record retention, but in some cases we probably weren’t meeting that.”

Luckily, the administration was on board for a massive security upgrade.

“Our new president is student-focused, especially on safety, and we wanted to make sure we were creating the safest environment for the students as possible,” said Joe Monroe, UK chief of police. “It’s more a proactive approach—not the result of anything happening. We’re trying to be ahead of the game.”

Finding the Right Fit

Beatty and his team started the process of finding an integrator and vendors that could meet the university’s needs. They submitted a request for proposal and thoroughly evaluated technology from companies across the country.

“What we were looking for was a company that could effectively manage all the different legacy systems under the umbrella of one. Even if we couldn’t switch some of the legacy systems out immediately, we wanted someone who had the capability of taking even those analog images and making them work in the system,” Beatty said. “Someone who could make all the different technologies communicate across the network.”

Ultimately, UK chose Next Level Security Systems (NLSS) to provide unified networked security solutions for the project, with integrators Dallmann Systems Integration, Advanced Digital Solutions, Dixon Electric, and consulting firm BCCLT Consulting Engineers working closely together. The university is deploying a number of Next Level solutions, including its flagship product, the NLSS Gateway, a unified security management system that combines IP video management, access control, video analytics and intrusion into one appliance. UK officials also can leverage NLSS Cloud Services to enable remote access and multi-site security management from any location.

According to Brad Pyles, vice president of business development at Advanced Digital Solutions, the Next Level Gateways will integrate with a range of technology that includes Axis 360-degree cameras; Sony wide dynamic range cameras; an IP mass notification system from Code Blue and Valcomm; and Talk-a-Phone emergency call stations. More than 2,000 video surveillance cameras will deliver comprehensive coverage throughout the campus and more than 40,000 individuals will be enrolled as cardholders.

“UK has always had some security system but never any integration of these systems to allow the police and other first responders to access the information in real time from a central location,” Pyles said. “Joe Monroe and Mr. Beatty have really done a great job of driving this need for access to the security system information.”

Security in Layers

As Beatty sees it, the university needed four “layers” of technology to be truly secure: a video management system, a security management system, a card access system and advanced notification capabilities.

The video management system required the most new technology, including cameras, software and hardware, to manage a substantial amount of incoming video data. Monroe said several hundred new cameras will be added to the campus, and then the hospital’s system will be migrated over. This will give him and his team “more eyes on the campus,” helping them to investigate incidents, provide forensic evidence of events, save money and time with virtual patrols and assist students with virtual escorts.

“Video management is very critical for our campus, not only for being able to prevent crime, but also for evidentiary matters,” Beatty said. “It gives us the ability to have images that we probably could not have provided in the past. We’re very excited about the NLSS Gateway’s ability to use analytics instead of having to have someone actually monitoring the video—it gives us flexibility, is less intensive in terms of staffing and will be very functional for us. And the analytics will allow us not to use up so much storage space for the images because we will only save the important data long-term.”

The new security management system gives police the ability to control the main core of the campus during an emergency—the type of functionality that can potentially save lives during shooting incidents, severe weather, fires and other dangerous events.

“With the help of the card access capabilities, we can actually physically lock down buildings should there be an event and prevent anyone from entering,” Beatty said. “We’ll be able to lock down most of the campus with just a couple keystrokes. Given all the tragedies that are happening on our campuses, the ability to secure a building and prevent anyone else from entering was critical. When first responders get there, we know we can isolate the situation, move in and take appropriate action and not have anyone else come in and be in harm’s way.”

Coupled with the security management system is the card access system. NLSS Access Control will use HID cards and readers with Mercury Security controllers, integrated into the university’s SQL database. Previously, students, faculty and staff carried a different card for each function, and until this project began, nearly all campus buildings were still accessed by keys. Now, they will have the “Wildcard” for access control, payments from student accounts and more. Each card features up to six pieces of embedded technology, including bar codes, proximity card technology and a QR reader.

“Some people were carrying three or four different cards because all the technology we needed was not embedded into one card,” Beatty said. “So, now it will be truly one card that we can put into and out of the system with just a few keystrokes. It accesses buildings and facilities, their student accounts for purchasing food, merchandise and other things, on and off campus. It even has technology in it to be able to access the legacy systems as we transition to the new system.”

Finally, the campus’ new enhanced notification system ties it all together, using IP mass notification and emergency call stations. UK’s rapid warning system is able to push emergency updates out to cell phones, tablets, desktops, VoIP office phones and loudspeakers within the campus’ core buildings. In addition, each emergency call station includes a phone, a built-in camera, an emergency response button and a PA system that allows police officers to make area-wide announcements.

“We’re in a part of the country that gets its share of weather incidents, so we wanted a basic system that would let us push out messages by text if there’s a crime in progress, for example, but also to be able to send an email or a voice message with public address information in case of severe weather,” he said.

The four layers of security will work in concert to create a comprehensive, highly-effective network to protect UK’s students, faculty and staff better than ever before.

Getting Proactive

With such an expansive campus environment as UK, the ability to correlate video surveillance, analytic alerts and access control data into a single user interface is enabling the university to take a proactive stance with its security program. Now, they can automate alerts and responses to allow personnel to focus on more critical risks.

“Like any university, UK needed to take a proactive approach to security; to that end, the new system, with the integrated appliance approach delivered by the NLSS Gateway, enables officials to rapidly pinpoint potential issues and respond faster than ever,” said Peter Jankowski, chairman and CEO at Next Level Security Systems. “UK also benefited from the cost savings of the NLSS Gateway, which integrates video, access control and other systems into one appliance. These are the kinds of considerations that modern universities simply can’t ignore.”

A Campus Makeover

This massive security overhaul comes at an ideal time, as UK undergoes a campus “reinvention,” with multiple buildings being torn down and rebuilt. This allowed the security team to integrate the new system into the design phase for the core of the campus.

“We were fortunate that we had a new president come in about the time we got started with this,” Beatty said. “He’s been very ambitious; one of his goals is to reinvent the campus. All the old housing has been torn down and rebuilt in a new style that students prefer, with the intent of bringing about 6,000 more beds to campus in the next five years. With that came several new buildings. It was timely, because it allowed us to integrate our security system and get the infrastructure worked out ahead of time.”

The first phase of construction and security upgrades includes about 20 buildings that make up the core of the campus’ educational and residential areas. Beatty expects that by the end of the year, this phase will be complete and they will be able to migrate the sophisticated system at the University of Kentucky Medical Center over. Then, in the coming years, all independent legacy systems on campus will be migrated over as well.

An Ongoing Priority

UK’s focus on security will continue, even after the initial upgrade is complete. All new buildings will be designed to include the new access control system, cameras and emergency loudspeakers.

“That’s the beauty of what we’re able to do. For a new building, we can do an audit, determine what’s needed and then apply the same pricing structure from our purchasing department,” Beatty said. “And then each department will then be responsible for bringing their building into the system.”

As progress continues at UK, there is a sense of excitement over what’s ahead. A new security system is just one aspect of the campus makeover, but it’s one that will have an impact for years to come.

“The interesting thing is to see the campus come together on a unified front toward this end because everyone understands and sees the importance of making the campus safe,” Beatty said. “And with that comes a high level of excitement for what we’re doing on the campus to make it more secure, as well as all the building that’s going on. I think that’s what’s unique about it. It’s an old campus that’s totally being revamped. It’ll have a different look and certainly a more secure atmosphere to it.”

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


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