Staffing Issues

Staffing Issues

Remotely-delivered security solutions help academia keep an eye on security

Staffing IssuesSecurity has never been more important to organizations of all sizes and industries across the United States. More recent events, such as the Sandy Hook massacre (the latest in a list of tragedies in the K-12 and higher education vertical), the Boston Marathon bombing and the Colorado theater shooting drove home the reality that all venues, regardless of their location or history, need to be properly protected. the Columbine tragedy in 1999 and the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 both resulted in an increased focus on security demands from the public.

While threats to people, property and assets have multiplied, the funding to implement new security systems has not kept up. The 2008 economic downturn and its continued slow recovery have stretched the budgets of both private and public schools.

Public Expectation

The expectation of the public, employees and visitors that adequate security systems are in place to proactively identify and possibly prevent incidents from happening has increased. Whether this is due to an increasingly litigious society or the belief that the near-miraculous, super security systems featured in TV shows and the movies are the norm is not clear.

What is certain, however, is that employees and visitors to all public sites and facilities anticipate a safe and secure environment. K-12, community colleges and other institutions of higher education are not immune to the impact of these trends and issues.

In fact, regulations, such as the Clery Act created to address recent incidents, set specific guidelines on how these institutions must respond to threats and potentially dangerous situations. Heavy fines could be levied for non-compliance, in addition to the public relations nightmare that could result from a successful violent act or security incident.

Intrusion Detection Systems

Most schools have some type of intrusion detection system that secures the facility when unoccupied. Typically, intrusion detection systems are armed by the last person leaving the area and disarmed by the first person arriving at the start of the day. The architecture of the system is simple. Sensors that detect a change in temperature, a change in reflected microwaves that indicates an object is moving or a sound, such as breaking glass are installed and connected to a control panel. The control panel is connected via a dialup or network connection to a monitoring station that responds to intrusion alarms by activating a prescribed call plan. This could include dispatching the local police or a contracted security force, and contacting the designated personnel of the institution responsible for the facility.

Intrusion systems are relatively inexpensive to purchase as well as simple to install and configure. Active monitoring and management of the system is contracted to a certified, central monitoring station, and a local security integrator can be used for service and maintenance. In many ways, an intrusion detection system is similar to a fire detection system. Once installed and active, the hope is that it never goes into alarm mode since this means there is a problem.

The other primary security systems, access control and video surveillance, are used more dynamically to secure the facility and to protect people, property and assets. Access control systems are used each time a person needs to enter or exit a secure area. Video surveillance systems report on what is continuously in their field of view. Most video is recorded for post-event, forensic analysis, such as reviewing video footage to see who hit the car parked in space 42 on Thursday morning.

The power and value of access control and video surveillance systems increase when institutions turn the system-produced data into meaningful information. Rather than reporting after the fact, the goal is to become more proactive by identifying and possibly preventing incidents as early as possible or dispatching first responders as soon as possible.

Examining the cost of installing as well as managing access control and video surveillance systems highlights the challenges every school district, community college and institute of higher education faces. With the evolution of access control and video surveillance to software- based systems that operate on standard servers connected to networked end devices, like readers and cameras, the architecture and challenges of both types of systems are similar. Servers and software must be purchased.

Cool and Secure

The server must be in a secured space with the proper cooling and electrical power. The software must be updated regularly, just like updates to a subscription of an anti-virus software, and at least one person must be trained to use and maintain the software. For access control systems, new users must be added, people who have left the institution must be deleted and replacement badges must be issued.

Access rights for people who change their job roles also must be implemented.

Video surveillance systems are even more dynamic, requiring more active management. Cameras need to be reconfigured to address new security threats and repositioned as the seasons change. Video quality has to be evaluated to ensure that the correct views are being recorded, while video of critical events has to be moved to long-term storage, retaining it for legal and administrative purposes.

Besides the day-to-day active management of access control and video surveillance systems, somebody has to receive and respond to the alerts and alarms that intelligent security systems produce if the school is going to get the maximum value from its investment. An access control system can send out an alert when a badge that is no longer valid, is attempted to be used to enter a perimeter door. Some municipalities require an intrusion detection alarm to visually-verify before the police are dispatched. Video surveillance systems can send an alert when a border is crossed, a person enters a specific space or when a precursor to a possible security incident is identified, such as a crowd gathering in a parking lot, indicating a possible fight or crime.

Most school districts are challenged to secure funding to invest in security systems so guards are hired to actively manage and proactively monitor these systems, even though the protection of advanced security systems is actually needed. There is a better solution.

Remote Security Management

Remote Security Management from Siemens provides school districts, community colleges and institutions of higher education with a costeffective, efficient security solution. Siemens can host the access control and video surveillance head-ends (software and server) in its central monitoring station (CMS). Through a secure Internet connection, the CMS connects to badge readers and cameras installed at the local site, where trained CMS professionals manage the systems. They add and delete users, issue new badges as well as configure and adjust cameras. Most of the capital expense of the security systems, the cost of running and maintaining the servers and software, including the charge for people to manage the systems, is shifted from the user to Siemens. The user organization gets the benefit of actively-managed and monitored security systems for a monthly fee.

The security of the network connection between the CMS and the local site is critical. Only those authorized should be able to see live or recorded video. To provide a secure VPN for remote access and monitoring, Siemens installs the Network Navigator VPN from Secure Global Solutions at each local school site. Diagnostic capabilities of the device provide the CMS, as well as the school district, with a better understanding of any problems related to transmission, bandwidth use and equipment failure. Only devices defined in the Network Navigator configuration are allowed to communicate, thus protecting the school district data center from any other traffic that may be local to a school, including viruses. The Network Navigator also pings cameras, monitors video output and detects recording on archiving equipment, so that all activity history is recorded and graphed.

As with intrusion detection systems, Siemens can monitor the alerts and alarms generated by access control and video surveillance systems. Using predetermined response plans, the CMS can dispatch guards to investigate perimeter door, “access denied” alerts, potentially preventing campus violence before it occurs. Leveraging advanced video analytics, the CMS also can identify the video alerts that require on-site investigation to reduce false alarms and labor costs.

Case Study

Siemens’ Remote Security Management solution is helping a West Coast community college not only improve security during the day, after hours and on weekends, but also save $30,000 annually, which enables the institution to invest back into academics. The college is located in a high-crime area, with poor visibility of parts of the campus from main patrolled roads. Campus police provide coverage of most of the campus during the day, when the majority of the students are on campus. As with most community colleges and school districts, the student population and facility usage falls dramatically at night. Hiring more guards would have been cost prohibitive so a low-cost, effective security solution was needed to detect intruders and prevent vandalism of the campus. By using video cameras with audio outputs, Siemens can perform guard tours remotely from the Siemens CMS during off hours, on a predetermined schedule. If an intruder is detected, Siemens can perform a “voice down” through loud speakers to let the person know he is under observation and help deter vandalism before it occurs.

The migration to IP-based security systems and the increased availability of high-speed and low-cost network connections, as well as RSM solutions, enable schools to improve their security while managing their resources. Educational facilities’ security needs differ, based on the type of learning institution and grade levels served, campus layout and location, and student/outsider accessibility. New remotely-delivered security solutions that help address existing and potential threats can be tailored to meet the specific requirements of all educational institutions, including staffing and funding challenges.

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


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