Achieving Top Honors in Campus Safety

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Achieving Top Honors in Campus Safety

Benedictine University earns state-wide recognition with high-tech security solution and Emergency Operations Center

Campus safety is fast becoming a prerequisite for students and their families when they explore options for higher education. As their expectations grow, they also are becoming increasingly savvy about security technology. At Benedictine University, a four-year university located in Lisle, Ill. the school’s chief of police, Michaelo Salatino has seen this change firsthand.

“Now at the orientations, we’re dealing with more informed parents and students,” he said. “When I start describing our card readers and camera system, people are actually asking, ‘How sensitive is it? Does it work? How do you use it?’ These are questions that were not asked just a few years ago. Our community, at large, is a lot more sophisticated.”

The campus police have dedicated themselves to meeting these concerns with comprehensive security programs, and the school has been accredited by the Illinois Law Enforcement Accreditation Program for its safety and security initiatives. One such initiative is their security camera network featuring Axis network cameras, which the school began deploying in 2007 with systems integrator Convergint Technologies. Convergint also network-enabled a number of legacy analog cameras in the campus parking garage with six-channel AXIS Q7406 Video Encoder Blades.

The camera system “definitely extends the range of our university police force. We wouldn’t be able to operate as effectively as we do without it,” Salatino said.

On the strength of this and other programs, the school was ranked as the second safest four-year school in the state of Illinois in 2013, and the university’s efforts have become a clear draw for students.

“Even as recently as six years ago, security technology was not really on people’s radar,” Salatino said. “Today, parents tell me they selected our university because the safety and security programs we have in place aren’t being offered by other institutions down the road. It’s pushed us to keep up with the latest security technologies and partner with Convergint to make sure we deploy the best products out there.”

Salatino sees this increased awareness as a trend throughout the country.

“Security is of extreme concern to parents and students,” he said. “That’s what really has launched a lot of public safety operations across the country— meeting the demands of your community. And that’s exactly what we do here.”

High-Tech Security Campus-Wide

The cameras help support a police force of 14 state-certified peace officers and eight para-professionals.

At any given time, there are hundreds of students, faculty and staff on campus, and special events can bring in an additional 4,000 people and their vehicles. Handling routine calls would be challenging without the camera system, according to university police.

The campus-wide security solution takes full advantage of the latest technology, including new features such as HDTV-resolution, H.264 compression, wide dynamic range (WDR), lowlight color fidelity and 360o field-of-view.

The ultra-fast PTZ control of AXIS Q6035-E gives the police department the ability to track activity along a busy walkway between four buildings and zoom in instantly when an incident occurs. A 360°, five-megapixel AXIS M3007-PV Network camera provides a panoramic view of the library with its multiple points of entry and atriumstyle architecture. “My field of view has increased tenfold,” Salatino said. “If I don’t see you coming in, I’m going to see you going out.”

Covering a 108-acre campus can be challenging, especially for a university which was founded in 1887. The campus features buildings constructed in a variety of styles dating back to the 1930s—from concrete slab ceilings to dropped ceilings to three-story atriums. Fortunately, IP cameras can be easily installed in a range of building environments. Convergint also used a variety of mounting options to ensure the cameras blended in with the aesthetics of the campus. “We’ve never had to abandon or reconsider a location,” Salatino said. “All you need with these cameras is a network drop and you’re in play.”

Cameras are monitored 24/7, and the IT department archives video for 30 to 45 days on rack mounted Dell PowerEdge multi-processor servers. This helps security staff quickly resolve incidents. For example, if an expensive pair of jeans goes missing from the laundry room, police can easily check the video to see if another student had mistakenly grabbed the wrong clothes.

“Invariably it’s another student who accidentally scooped up clothing from the wrong washer or dryer,” Salatino said. “And it just takes a knock on the door to get those clothes back.”

Interconnected Emergency Management

In addition to serving as a force multiplier for routine service calls, the Benedictine University police department has integrated the camera system into its emergency preparedness program to assist officers in informing students, faculty and staff of severe weather conditions and emergency evacuations, as well as coordinating with local law enforcement during active shooter drills.

The cameras are tied into a separate Emergency Operations Center (EOC), which allows administrators to keep continual watch over the campus while police dispatch handles first response.

The Department of Education’s Action Guide for Emergency Manager at Institutions of Higher Education compares college campuses to small towns in their composition, as they are active around the clock and include a variety of facilities ranging from residential buildings and businesses to dining halls and athletic centers. To manage security protocols in such a diverse environment, the action guide recommends universities develop a thorough, comprehensive and collaborative emergency management plan. An Emergency Operations Center, like the one established by Benedictine University, is one of the keys to a successful plan.

The EOC is connected to a broader emergency response plan that includes their University Emergency Alerts and Information Notification systems. As outlined in the school’s 2013 Annual Security Report, the emergency response is highly interconnected and features audio alerts over their mass communications system, strobe lights, emails, voicemails and personal communications from Residence Life staff to each student. The integration of the cameras with the rest of the emergency plan provides critical visual information to coordinate responses.

The university found the camera system to be extremely useful for emergency preparedness. During building evacuations, they are able to coordinate their mass communications protocol through the PA system in conjunction with the cameras.

“We can see which way people are travelling or if there’s going to be a traffic jam at a particular staircase,” Salatino said. “With that information, we can give directions on our campuswide public address system instructing people on which way to go.” In the event of threats or an active shooter scenario, the cameras provide invaluable situational awareness to the university and first responders.

“With the cameras, we’re already inside the building,” Salatino said. “This helps support officer safety, and we’re able to coordinate with responding law enforcement jurisdictions that would be backing us up.”

University police also use the cameras to keep track of everyone entering the dorms.

“Our staff quickly learns to recognize who belongs and who doesn’t, plus their access card gives us the time/date stamp that can be matched with the video,” Salatino said. “If officers see someone enter that they don’t recognize, they’ll initiate a search to confirm whether it’s a friend of a resident or an intruder. Conversely, if someone reports suspicious activity and gives a general description such as ‘a male wearing a banana yellow shirt and brown corduroy pants,’ campus police can use the video to track that individual’s whereabouts on campus.”

When it comes to security, Benedictine University won’t settle for anything less than top marks.

This article originally appeared in the January 2015 issue of Security Today.

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