March 28, 2012
Security technology has been part of campus infrastructure for decades, with students accessing dorm doors with keycards, video systems watching sensitive locations like laboratory space and fire and intrusion alarms used in every building.
Where those platforms once operated separately and served distinct missions, there is a growing convergence — a trend toward what is referred to as an “integrated system,” where access control, video, fire and intrusion alerts, mass notification, remote lockdowns and other, emerging technologies work together to provide more safety and greater opportunity to be proactive, rather than reactive.
Unlike other capital expenditures, measuring the return on investment (ROI) of such an integrated system is complex and difficult to break down into dollars and cents. For example, if you buy a new, energy efficient refrigerator for $1,000 and know it will save you $20 a month on your electric bill, you recognize a return on your investment in 50 months.
There are some tangible savings that first convinced colleges to embrace security technology. For example, providing access cards instead of keys cuts down on key-cutting costs and makes for an overall more efficient security system.
But in measuring the ROI of implementing an integrated safety infrastructure, we often come down to impossibilities. How do you measure the value of preventing a major incident on your campus — or even the value of blocking escalation of a tragedy? How many dollars is that worth? Even if we take a step back from preventing the worst-case scenario, what price-tag can we affix to the value of keeping crime down on campus, of maintaining the “feel” of security?
ROI of an integrated system must be considered in the long-term and with a more nuanced, flexible attitude than how we normally approach the subject in terms of capital expenditures.
There are several broad areas in which we can consider ROI and the integrated system, however, and those include human resources, improved overall safety and non-security related benefits.
Integration Can Make Security Staff More Effective
Many larger colleges are moving toward having their own command centers, serving as the brain controlling the central nervous system that is the integrated platform. They’re trying, from an ROI perspective, to cut down on how many officers (sworn or otherwise) they have on a given shift by augmenting the force with technology.
Or, they would like to have more officers on patrol but can’t get the headcount through the budget. Instead, they turn to integrated technologies to help better manage the work force they do have.
For example, an intrusion alert in the middle of the night may trigger a video system and alert the monitor at the command center, showing in real-time someone in a building hallway. That person can be tracked through technology, instead of having guards walking beats through multiple corridors in multiple buildings.
The monitor can dispatch one of the officers on duty that night to the building, while keeping close watch on the suspect. In addition to knowing exactly where to send the officer, the monitor can give additional information. Were any weapons seen? Is the activity suspicious? What’s the description?
Forewarned is forearmed. Through technology, the monitor can advise the officer about the situation. If the lone officer on during the night shift knows he or she is going to be confronting 20 rowdy students who broke a window, a situation that could easily get out of hand, then reinforcements can be called in from the local police department.
A problem that could have easily escalated is instead dealt with through an appropriate level of support. There are no injuries, either for the students or for the once-lone responding campus officer. That means no workers’ compensation claims, no lost-time costs, a lower likelihood of lawsuits and no bad publicity.
It’s an invaluable outcome but one that is hard to measure in terms of monetary ROI.
Mom and Dad Like Safety and Security
Parents these days are savvy about where they send their children to college, and safety plays no small role in that determination.
Let’s cut down to basics: for colleges, admissions are the name of the game — it’s the financial bottom line. More students equal more money. And an integrated safety system can help, although it’s not a straight line equation.