Magazine article University Business

Connecting the Security Dots: Building Security Systems Integration Is a Tough Goal for Institutions to Reach-But Some in Higher Ed Are Making It Work

Magazine article University Business

Connecting the Security Dots: Building Security Systems Integration Is a Tough Goal for Institutions to Reach-But Some in Higher Ed Are Making It Work

Article excerpt

The roster of people flowing in and out of campus buildings changes frequently. New students come in, others graduate. Adjunct faculty and visiting scholars join the campus for a limited time; corporate partners and parents stop over for a day.

Giving everyone access to the appropriate buildings is a challenge that's compounded when a mix of security cameras, surveillance systems and other security devices have been installed independently.

However, feeds from various devices can be integrated and delivered to safety personnel, who can view and connect security-related events. Additionally, security actions--such as turning on a video camera when unauthorized building access is being attempted--can be automated with security information management software.

Although many institutions haven't unified building security, experts say that aim can be accomplished, over time, with the right blend of planning and technology.

A challenging goal

Most colleges and universities have a mix of door access and camera/ surveillance devices, and that poses a significant hurdle to achieving an integrated picture of security events, industry experts say.

At Virginia Tech, door access devices range from physical keys to sophisticated security systems on buildings that house highly classified research. "We have 125 buildings on our Blacksburg campus. Some were built in the early 1800s and the most recent building was opened earlier this year," says Brenda van Gelder, Virginia Tech's executive director of converged technologies for security, safety and resilience.

There are electronic card access systems on the doors of 72 buildings, with installations beginning in 1994. The institution also has had a variety of camera surveillance systems installed over the past 10 to 15 years, with an increasing number installed since the institution's 2007 mass shooting tragedy.

Today, Virginia Tech has a coordinated, campuswide approach to purchasing and implementing security devices so that data can be collected and made available to campus security. The institution also leverages other technologies, including overlaying incident data reports with a geographic information system (GIS) to identify recurring incidents by type, such as theft.

Another common disconnect in higher education has been a lack of communication between departments about the purchase of security devices, say industry experts. Surprisingly, many building access control fixtures and systems were purchased by student services, says Christopher Kieta, director of business development at Siemens Industry. Student-services departments led the drive to equip students with debit cards for cashless spending at vending machines, cafeterias, bookstores and other services delivered in-house or by third-party companies. The providers of those cards then enabled them for building access.

"That was a watershed moment for electronic systems in higher education," says Kieta. "Almost every major university has a one-card system today, and most of them came out of student services without the involvement of security professionals."

Institutions must adapt when new technology in one sector outpaces their security plan. Keeping pace should involve updating safety policies with input from all campus departments involved in security.

Mission possible

Events and data can be captured from card readers, alarms, intrusion detection devices and recording devices, and rolled up into a security management system that displays all activity on one dashboard. Additionally, an institution can incorporate data on students and faculty from its administrative system.

Officials at Becker College in Worcester, Mass., have integrated card access with its video system on select buildings. When a student or faculty ID card is swiped for entry, the name and photo of the person associated with the card pops up on a screen monitored by security. …

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