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Looking at Campus Security this Year

Looking at Campus Security this Year

Clery Act remains primary driver of regulated change

In the past year, we’ve seen a number of trends emerge in campus security at both the higher education and K-12 level, as U.S. school districts and universities enhance their security measures. On the K-12 level, much of this activity is being driven by the tragic shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School and other similar events. In higher education, the Clery Act continues to be one of the primary drivers of change. Both education segments and analyze the most significant security trends taking place in each.

Universities Strive For Two-Way Communication

When it comes to campus security in higher education, many are deploying technology and systems designed to increase communications among the school, security office, students, faculty and guests. Mass communication systems are being implemented not just for terrorist attacks or active shooters on a campus, but for a variety of other situational purposes.

Because campuses are often sprawling properties, students, faculty and guests need to be able to send communications regarding important events. The old standard communications method was to place blue light emergency phones and stanchions throughout a campus. However, with today’s proliferation of smart phones and reliable wireless infrastructure, alternative methods are being deployed.

Many schools have created smartphone apps for security, or added functionality to their existing apps, that effectively turn each student’s phone into a security reporting device. Universities are looking to increase engagement and awareness levels across the board. The goal is to ensure campus safety is easily accessible—and not just viewed as a far-flung department that is visible only when officials break up parties on the weekends.

With most communications methods today, it’s possible to incorporate global positioning so campus security and/or first responders can identify the origin of a communication. If you have a precise location of where something is happening, you can leverage it for first responders. Consider that many campuses have volunteer emergency medical and fire responders. If a student is a registered EMT and in class in the area of need, with the proliferation of mobility, it’s now possible to reach out to the network of responders closest to the point of reporting. Additionally, GPS installed on campus security vehicles can be leveraged to assign the best/closest assets.

While giving students the ability to report events is critical, it’s equally important to send alerts of events throughout the campus. During past campus shootings, local cellular networks jammed under the volume of calls being made. This only added to panic and confusion, and made the job of first responders more difficult. Because cellular coverage is outside the control of universities, many are taking steps to ensure their wireless access points reach every area of campus.

Today, many universities are relying on a variety of communications methods to successfully spread their emergency messages. This includes texting student cell phones, pushing notifications through the university’s smartphone apps, and sending messages to public displays, monitors in classrooms and computer desktops on the campus networks. The idea behind so many diverse communications methods is to increase the odds that critical messages will be successfully transmitted and seen.

All that said, communication isn’t just for emergencies. As mentioned above, much of what we’re seeing on the university level today is being driven by the Clery Act. Universities that receive federal funding must maintain and disclose information on campus crime. Many are incorporating crime disclosure data into their apps to give students immediate access to what’s being reported.

This data is also available to parents of students, giving them peace of mind when it comes to sending their children away to school.

Today’s technology is being used by universities to create an effective two-way communication system with which students on campus feel confident interacting. The goal of all this is enhanced situational awareness to protect students, faculty and guests.

Elementary Schools Are Playing Catch Up

As far as elementary schools are concerned, things are a little different. Of course, the safety of the children, teachers and staff is of the utmost importance, but school districts tend to be lagging when it comes to security infrastructure due to budgetary priorities. In many school districts, the technology emphasis and spend is focused on the classroom to help educators meet common core requirements set forth by the government. Unless a school is in a busy city and has had everyday student behavior issues, security hasn’t historically been viewed as an important issue.

At the very least, schools today lock the doors while in session. This, of course, is a low-tech attempt at a solution and, while it creates a minimal barrier, more needs to be done. In an attempt to overcome budget barriers, many schools, when planning renovations or building anything that voters support, for instance, a new stadium, are bundling in security infrastructure upgrades or purchases. Even though security is important, it’s easier to get projects approved for more popular projects.

Common technology initiatives are focused on essentials such as fire safety and expanding surveillance footprints for complete coverage and multiple angles using IP cameras as opposed to analog. Additionally, many schools are hiring police veterans for directors of safety and putting thoughtful security strategies in place. Some districts are also offering active shooter training to teachers and faculty to ensure decisive responses to shooting incidents.

In addition, school districts are looking for creative ways to mimic what’s happening at the university level. For example, fire systems often include different awareness/communication capabilities that can make them valuable tools to get messages to people in the school. Student tip lines are also gaining popularity. The reality is that many students are well- or better-equipped than teachers to identify other students who are at risk or potential threats. Simply establishing a text message tip line is helpful, but it’s even more helpful when monitored by a third party.

A school in Alabama is doing a very simple implementation of this. Students were encouraged to send tips via SMS message, and incoming messages were being handled by someone at the local police department. The police uncovered things such as a teacher who kept a bottle of alcohol in his or her desk and a link to a YouTube video of a fight the school was unaware of.

Much more has been coming to surface because the system is simple and somewhat anonymous. In fact, one or two tips come in each day, and people in the community are now using the system as well.

It bears mentioning that there’s also a trend of what’s not happening concerning security. Because most school districts are still working on establishing basic security systems and policies, advanced technology like video analytics, which can provide additional beneficial data, simply isn’t a reality in the near future. Additionally, while cloud security systems are interesting because of their affordable entry price point, more often than not the infrastructure is lacking to create a solution that’s as effective as one on-premise.

As is the case with both university and K-12 campuses, horrible events have raised awareness in the public eye. Today, more than ever, steps are being taken to protect students and faculty. The next event will either be prevented by increased security measures or become another tragedy that will leave the public questioning how such a thing can happen. In either case, securing our campuses will continue to be a focal point for some time.

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

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