Planning A Connected Campus

Campus Solutions

Planning A Connected Campus

Unifying and enabling communications help plan for effective connections


Technology is changing rapidly, transforming the campus landscape. Mobility trends, real-time, location-based services/global positioning systems (GPS) and even social media are having an impact. Now, more than ever, analyzing all these moving parts and pieces and devising a comprehensive safety plan takes a collaborative effort by security providers, campus stakeholders and even surrounding town and cities. It also necessitates a deep dive consultative approach and examination into existing systems and infrastructures, points of control, compliance and regulations and the overall physical security process and procedures in place at the institution.


Recent education research cites that over a quarter of a billion students are due to enroll in institutions of higher learning by 2025. With students, come new ways to interact and communicate, such as social media platforms and, of course, the smartphone, which is now a minicomputer in its own right. Nielsen statistics from 2014 set the largest user-base of smartphones (85 percent) as between the ages of 18 and 34.

Ultimately, a connected solution and unified plan benefits an entire campus, city and surrounding areas and makes sense for the future success of campus solutions. Not only is the campus safer, but overlapping and nearby populations also have greater peace of mind through compliance with the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act. The Clery Act requires colleges and universities who receive federal funding to share information about crime on campus and their efforts to improve campus safety, as well as inform the public of crime in or around the facility.

The connected campus safety and security landscape should accomplish the following.

  • Empower students, staff, stakeholders, campus safety, police, fire authorities and communities to interact and collaborate through a variety of methods and integrated security technologies.
  • Execute and facilitate a security plan that supports critical decision making in managing and processing events and emergencies quickly and efficiently.
  • Improve responsiveness and deliver faster emergency notification and alerts through readily accessible communications platforms.

Many institutions of higher learning are already embracing sophisticated communications technologies, such as video, cloud, wireless internet, social media and unified communications, not only for campus safety and security, but to improve the learning experience in the classroom and throughout the campus environment. This willingness to take on new technologies is a first step in enabling the ongoing progress toward a truly connected campus.

Campus safety authorities and police send messages to student populations via smartphone apps, email, text, Facebook, and Twitter, notifying of emergencies, lockdowns, closures, and other events. Most students continue to rely on mobile platforms to receive their messages. Facebook alone has more than 53 percent of its users interfacing via mobile devices only, said eMarketer’s “Trends for 2016: Six Predictions for What Will Happen.”

Now, with specialized mobile apps, students may also have access control, multi-function cards and real-time situational awareness, including sending duress alerts, video and GPS location, directly to a security command center in the event of an incident. Some mobile apps allow a user to shake their smartphone, turning the device into a high-volume, strobe-light alarm. Plus, campus police can be provided this emergency information, dispatched, and routed to incidents on campus utilizing mobile apps on the market today. Mobility further allows up-to-date, location-based tracking from cellular services, as well as real-time and location based notification from Twitter, Facebook and others.


Before a campus can become connected, disparate technologies need to be able to talk to each other or, at least, foster a series of events that result in better communication. With that, campus safety initiatives are incorporating a number of different technologies, including access control, video, intrusion, mass notification systems and standalone emergency stations and duress technologies for nearby and remote locations.

New personal safety applications and virtual protection solutions are also available through the smartphone for students who are not near a duress or panic button station so they can notify campus safety of an emergency immediately from their device. Public address systems are being used campus-wide to stream voice notifications or fire alarm systems with voice annunciation also being deployed.

In some applications in the classroom, where smartphone use is discouraged, public safety sends alerts through public address speakers or visual annunciation such as colored strobes to indicate risk levels or alerts.


System standardization across the campus is necessary to improve security and communications throughout the different silos of populations, including campus safety, IT, resident halls, administration and other departments. It’s critical for a core committee to develop standards for safety and security solutions on campus. The creation of a core committee ensures all relevant parties play a role in developing the standards, and, therefore, are committed to upholding them. The group regularly assesses the standards to verify they are producing effective results. Additionally, the committee’s efforts should make sure that future projects are held to the same standards previously developed.

Not only do standards need to be in place for safety and security solutions, but those standards have to be clearly documented and reviewed regularly. Standards should create efficiency and also address what systems solutions will be deployed in new remodeling and construction projects, again promoting integration and communication between current solutions and new specifications still to come online.

It’s a long-term, collaborative process that makes the most sense in achieving an effective, connected campus. Part of the analysis includes a look at what’s currently on campus as far as security and how the existing infrastructure can be leveraged, utilized and operated effectively without major overhauls. Does access control integrate with video surveillance and feed to local campus public safety, as well as police and fire authorities?

What’s the status of emergency communications and lock down and mass notification? Is there a solid plan in place? These are just some of the initial questions that need to be asked.


The stakeholders themselves are changing in the deployment of security at colleges and universities. In many of the successful efforts of educational campuses across the country, the task of system management is moving to the Campus Safety Department as the owner of the systems, rather than spreading control among departments, which can be unwieldy in an emergency and even sabotage standardization of technologies. In the past, each department would dictate and specify its own security technologies and then ask campus safety to support the specification. Now, the departments are referring to campus safety – initially — for their recommendations and these departments are standardizing on physical security solutions and communications as set forth in their plan – which, ultimately, assists in the connected campus and effective emergency response.

Part of the campus safety and security plan requires establishing procedures and processes. The campus safety plan becomes the university’s living document that can be changed, but only through team consensus. For example, it sets procedures for locking entry and exit doors at certain times or schedules. It also can get as specific as what kinds of devices are to be used on doors, down to the manufacturer and part number, ensuring compatible technologies. Once this baseline document and plan is established, public safety and security initiatives run smoother.

Emergency lockdown has become another critical solution on campus and also needs planning as far as how it will operate. While the actual implementation of the solution may be simple, it can be complicated to manage and maintain. For example, will it lock down all buildings or certain buildings and what’s the criterion for that to happen? Who can initiate a lockdown? What does a lockdown entail for a specific campus? There are many potential scenarios, but each should be unique and genuine to the school in the way it is used.

One central point of command and control is an impetus in unifying campus communications. The most effective response comes from a single, trained command center. Communications are coming into one point and in larger and remote campuses; sub-command centers may be in place. Security management systems, mobile applications and web accessibility are helping off campus officers and security guards have ready access to central command from remote locations, as well.


Connectivity and collaboration is also bringing creative security and safety solutions to the campus environment. At Edinboro University in Edinboro, Pa., a custom system was developed and deployed in an ADA application for a student who required assistance opening and closing doors.

Without the solution, the student would need to leave the door open at all times, an unsafe situation, at best. Working together, the integrator and the university team devised a solution to allow the student to control her door via a custom application accessible on her smartphone and laptop. Once activated, the app initiates an electric strike that engages the accessible door operator so it opens automatically.


The proliferation of mobile technology, web and cloud-hosted platforms and open communications is driving the future direction of the connected campus. Near field communication and the ability to use the smartphone as an access control device is already proliferating many institutions. Bluetooth is further extending connectivity to areas without a network connection or poor signals, keeping students always connected.

Working in collaboration with all stakeholders to address technology and developing plans and standards sets the stage for the success of physical security and the connected campus among educational campuses.

This article originally appeared in the July 2016 issue of Security Today.


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