What are the challenges of protecting large campuses?
14 Oct 2019
Securing large campus environments can be particularly demanding and requires a range of technology solutions. In effect, a campus may represent a dozen or more individual facilities to be secured, in addition to protecting the overall environment. Seeking more insight into the number and variety of needs of securing a campus, we asked this week’s Expert Panel Roundtable: What are the security challenges of protecting large campus environments?
A major challenge is how to more efficiently and effectively protect these environments while also enhancing campus life. The latest access control systems pave the way, providing secure access through smartphones and other mobile devices to diverse new campus experiences. Many universities are moving to “mobile-only” access control for everything from entering residence halls to buying cafeteria meals. The latest solutions also connect readers, controllers, panels and locks to the cloud and Internet of Things (IoT) to deliver real-time data for use in remote reader confirmation, diagnostics and firmware updates as well as predictive system maintenance and threat protection. These systems also enable campuses to adopt today’s increasingly popular co-working model that enables building occupants to use smartphones for entering facilities and booking and unlocking offices and meeting rooms. This is ideal for university campuses where tens of thousands of people share facilities, services and resources.
The task of securing a large higher education, federal or corporate campus environment isn’t an easy one. Security teams need to secure both buildings and grounds, keep intruders out, while also maintaining an environment where people can freely move around campus. Keeping thousands of students, faculty, staff, employees, and visitors safe while ensuring compliance with federal regulations (FICAM), privacy laws, and labor agreements, only adds to the complexity.
More often than not, large campus environments have traditionally relied on disparate security systems (video surveillance, access control, intrusion, intercom, emergency phones, license plate recognition etc.) that operate in silos. These systems can suffer from compatibility issues or limited connectivity between various applications and can become complicated and costly to maintain. A unified campus security solution, where all physical security components are managed by the same platform leads to increased situational awareness, and provides security personnel with the information necessary to respond quickly and effectively to any situation.
Colleges and universities, hospitals and office parks face many challenges protecting people and property across large campuses. There are both buildings and outdoor spaces to secure. In either case, communication is vital. It may be ensuring the identity of a dormitory visitor or making a nurse feel safe as she walks to a remote parking facility at night. Knowing who’s at a door is often critical. That’s why video intercoms are important, enabling staff to see and have two-way conversations with visitors before making decisions to remotely unlock doors.
Networked master stations allow communication between security operations centers – even to a satellite campus many miles away. Wide-open outdoor areas offer other challenges. Outdoors, intercoms embedded in blue-light emergency stations and towers can quickly connect a distressed person to security or local first responders. Stations can also be used by people simply needing assistance such as directions to a building.
Due to their vast size, heavy population and variation in building design, large campus environments can present unique security challenges. For example, colleges and universities often consist of multiple buildings and campuses and operate on a 24/7 schedule for students. Oftentimes, urban campuses share spaces with cities or adjacent organisations. These factors can make colleges and universities vulnerable to security threats. It’s important to coordinate protection services with local police or security forces.
A robust security plan and proper technologies are also critical to help keep students and faculty safe and secure. Institutions like colleges and universities should consider an integrated security strategy where solutions can communicate with one another and exchange data in real-time. As a result, these environments are better equipped to respond to security threats.
The size of the area to be covered is the obvious concern. Using the proper equipment and training a large area can be covered by security protocols and enhance the security over the entire campus. To do this, we have to cover the basics of security which I call the “3 Pillars of Survival.”
One is preparation, which includes staff training, proper drills, and having the right electronic equipment in place on campus. Second is communication, the means by which the entire campus can be alerted to an emergency very quickly. Third is notification, which means how do we call the police or security for help? Overcoming the challenge of a large campus means planning in advance, training, obtaining the right equipment and covering the 3 Pillars of Survival. No matter the size of the campus, using these concepts as a guide will help keep everyone safe.
When people enter a learning environment, whether as a student, faculty member or visitor, their main concern should be on the day’s activities, not the process of gaining access. For authorised users, entry needs to be as seamless as possible. Campus environments consist of multiple buildings across large, open areas, with different buildings requiring different access permissions.
Key to designing an entrance control solution for this kind of environment is identifying which areas require controlled access and who should be granted access. Then comes the task of designing a system which enables a free flow of authorised pedestrian traffic within those areas, whilst ensuring a high level of security and a welcoming feel is maintained. The system also needs to be as flexible as a student’s timetable, as campuses are often in use 24 hours a day, and reliable so that security managers can be confident that the system won’t fail when there are limited security staff on-site.
The short answer: data management and integration. For so many campuses, data management programs operate as siloed programs, requiring a significant amount of data input and manpower to keep these databases up-to-date. This can be a real challenge for large campus environments with thousands of students, faculty and staff. The incorporation of streamlined data integration between data management systems and access control/security management systems can make all the difference in addressing these kinds of challenges and can all be automated in an efficient and cost-effective way.
Being able to integrate all of this data allows campus security officials to easily manage security efforts from a centralised platform. Since these environments are so vast and comprised of many different elements, being able to control everything from a single point of entry is necessary for enhanced situational awareness and lockdown capabilities in the event of an emergency.
There is a great responsibility for campus leaders to ensure the protection of what matters most to their organisation, whether that’s students and faculty in a university setting, patients and staff in a healthcare setting, or corporate employees, customers, and data in a business setting. The primary security challenge for this market centers around the digital revolution and prevalence of connected devices, which leads to a flurry of incoming data from numerous systems and sensors.
Campuses need modern ways to capture and analyse this information to make the most informed decisions and ensure the highest level of visibility and insight across all areas of what is typically a vast and complex environment comprised of multiple buildings and components. This can be achieved by leveraging an intelligent, video-based command and control platform that integrates video with related device state information in a dynamic interface to facilitate faster response and increased efficiencies.
Campus security is more critical than ever, with threats from active shooter situations seeming to make the news on a regular basis. On the technology front, high-resolution network-attached cameras are becoming less expensive, which enables universities and other large campus environments to deploy more cameras to improve security and safety. At the same time, other aspects of campus security such as access control systems now use many devices connected to the internet.
This “Internet of Things” associated with campus security and smart buildings typically falls to the security and facilities management team to manage the infrastructure. These new infrastructure technologies create challenges for security infrastructures – more camera feeds, high resolution content, and more internet-connected devices all translate to complexity – all while controlling storage costs. Increasingly, storage companies and large integrators are offering hyper-converged infrastructure to allow security departments to handle the data workloads more easily and less expensively.
As large campuses can be found in several vertical markets including education, healthcare, government, and corporate, it’s first important to know the objectives and specific concerns of the environment. A sprawling hospital or college campus tends to be open to visitors and patients and introduces additional concerns whereas government and corporate campuses will be more locked down and restrictive at the property perimeter.
What these campuses do have in common is an increasing number of data points that need to be monitored and assessed. Leveraging technologies such as anomaly detection, video verification, gunshot detection, and facial recognition, to name a few, are increasing in accuracy and becoming more commonplace. And a well-designed, centralised security operations center (SOC) to monitor, assess, and respond is even more critical to improve situational awareness and prevent and/or minimise incidents.
Campuses are incredibly diverse in terms of security needs, especially today. Learning centers, living spaces, sports facilities, and even retail environments are all regular features in a modern campus, with a mix of public and restricted access and fluctuating numbers of people present. Creating a consistent, resilient, flexible infrastructure to manage these diverse needs is vital, with video surveillance and access control underpinning all technologies in terms of risk mitigation and control. The rewards for getting this infrastructure right are numerous, however.
Improved public safety is key, but the ability to move from a reactive response to a proactive and even pre-emptive response to security incidents may be achieved with the right combination of technologies. At the core of all of that, however, is an infrastructure platform designed to meet the 24/7 requirements where security data is never lost and interaction with the various agencies is simple and seamless.
The biggest security challenge faced by a large campus, is the environment itself. With all the people and so much physical space, there are lots of opportunity for things to go wrong and a security incident to arise! Keeping the people and environment safe is and must continue to be a top priority. A physical safety and security incident, just like an IT security incident, such as a data breach, can have a direct impact on the brand and therefore the balance sheet.
Those responsible for physically protecting a large campus environment still rely on manual, paper-based methods for monitoring and managing the day-to-day execution of the security policies and procedures required to keep the people and the environment safe. Fortunately, the technology is now available to digitally transform the physical operating procedures required to protect a large campus environment. Logbooks, manuals and ticketing systems are no longer sufficient.
For hospitals, educational and any other large campuses, one of the biggest security challenges is the sheer amount of space that officials must monitor at all times in an effort to comprehensively protect those on the premises. For example, many educational campuses are comprised of numerous outdoor common areas, while hospitals are often tasked with oversight of large parking structures and waiting rooms. In both instances, 360- and 180-degree panoramic camera technology can go a long way in addressing the need for increased coverage in a way that is both cost-effective and efficient.
Total situational awareness from a single camera reduces the screens to view and significantly improves the speed of locating an incident, which is a growing challenge when budgets for surveillance staff are being squeezed. As more complete coverage is needed, the cost of storage is also a significant concern, so leveraging advanced compression technologies will be key.
Campus security takes on many different forms. From the traditional school or university campus seeking to provide safe learning environments for students, to the hospital facility focused on patient safety, each campus environment faces unique needs. We’ve worked with a variety of campus environments, including the University of Pittsburgh, and each has benefited from integrating its access control devices into one system.
Simply put, if the device can send a signal, security leaders have to be able to tie it into a single interface for enhanced situational awareness. Also, it’s not only focused on security; educational environments have multi-function ID cards to allow students and employees to use the cards for meal plans and ATM withdrawals. Security is still the main priority, but the ability to add additional business use cases during a security and access control deployment is the focus of the future.
In protecting large school campus environments, the main challenges typically arise from outdated legacy technologies already in place. When upgrading, the transition needs to be seamless without major technical disruption. That means that the security management software and hardware must tie into the school’s existing infrastructure without leaving campuses vulnerable. Schools also need to consider future expansions.
Deployed solutions must feature enterprise-level access management with the ability to expand — the system should be built to grow. Campuses should not have to worry about paying continual licensing and annual fees. Most importantly, the right solution must have a high resolution of threat level control, campus-level lockdown control, and the ability to work with active shooter detection systems. Schools face the challenge of finding a budget-friendly solution for migration that provides the highest integrated security and access control so they can focus on what’s most important: keeping students and staff safe.
Our Expert Panelist responses acknowledge a range of challenges in campus environments and offer more than a few suggestions about how to meet those challenges – from communications devices to data management and integration; from better information analysis to more up-to-date systems. Suffice it to say, given the size and complexity of campus environments, there are many plausible and useful answers to our question, and plenty of food for thought if anyone is tasked with securing a campus environment.
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