Remotely-delivered security solutions help academia keep an eye on security
- By Sam Docknevich
- Jul 01, 2013
Security 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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.