Looking at Campus Security this Year
Clery Act remains primary driver of regulated change
- By Bill Moran
- Jan 01, 2015
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
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
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
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.