3 Ways to Balance Security and Privacy on Healthcare and College Campuses

While serving two different purposes, healthcare and college campuses both secure people and property and must be intentional in balancing security and privacy.
Published: July 2, 2024

No matter the type of campus, whether it be a state university, a large medical facility, or the local community college, they all share similar makeup and security needs. These expansive spaces, comprised of lecture halls, living spaces, lab buildings, and outdoor areas, are home to hospitals and schools alike.

However, while serving two different purposes, these institutions share the need to secure both people and property over a vast geographical area. For both medical and educational campuses, focusing on implementing a proper security solution requires going back to the basics – fostering a smarter, safer campus.

Implementing a proper security solution begins with establishing clear policies and procedures. Understanding the overall landscape of the area, including unique landmarks like a lucky mascot statue or the hammocks in the quad, is another crucial step. This involves evaluating existing and needed manpower, internal best practices for technology deployment, and how to best design a video package to create a smart surveillance solution that covers all corners of the campus.

Video surveillance can also work with intelligent analytics technologies to enhance the overall value derived from the system, but, in these environments, privacy is a critical factor that cannot be ignored.

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Protecting Students and Patients While Respecting Their Privacy

Focusing on educational and healthcare campuses, one of the most significant security challenges is balancing the need to protect the entire student body and patient population — and any civilians in between — while still safeguarding individual privacy. Privacy considerations depend on institutional and state laws, with some municipalities having more stringent regulations than others due to Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and Protected Health Information (PHI) safeguards. For instance, some have mandates against running facial recognition on minors without parental consent, or some have restrictions but no outright bans for processing faces. In others, faces are considered part of a student’s personal biometric record, so must be logged to be on record.

Because of this and other competing factors, the U.S. Board of Education and healthcare regulators place the burden on institutions to justify their surveillance practices, emphasizing that privacy includes the responsible use of data.

Despite those unique hurdles, there are ways to protect privacy while maintaining comprehensive security. For instance, schools can blur faces or remove audio when using wearables or body-worn cameras that are streaming live, and then they can keep the unfiltered data local rather than automatically sending it to the cloud. Hospitals, on the other hand, should always treat any footage of patients as they would any patient record.

By using these approaches, campuses can achieve something important in their efforts to keep students and patients safe: community acceptance of rigorous security measures. Keeping data local also helps ensure that data is controlled and protected through tight cybersecurity measures. Of course, it bears repeating that the organization responsible for that data must also implement robust data protection protocols to prevent any unauthorized access.

By controlling data and ensuring stringent cybersecurity measures, educational institutions and medical facilities can protect their students’ and patients’ privacy and the integrity of their data, ensuring a secure and effective overall system.

Unifying Security Solutions Across Spread-Out Campuses

Another factor that complicates the security of higher education and healthcare campuses is that they’re often spread out over entire cities or towns, with clusters of buildings on different blocks and various types of accommodations like apartments, dorms, and patient housing. Unifying a security solution across vast areas like this requires a coordinated effort among security administrators in addition to a unique level of collaboration with other community members.

Educational institutions and medical facilities must work with their neighbors that have similar characteristics. For instance, if a dorm happens to be located next to a government building, or a medical research lab is near a university lecture hall, it’s essential to share data, video, and alerts to build a communication network between the educational facility and the government or healthcare entity to ensure security across both communities. In the event of a major incident, knowing the reaction plan across organizations can make a significant difference in keeping people safe.

This community alignment spans municipal services, private citizens, local businesses, and major corporations — and it’s vital for the well-being of all. By sharing information and resources, campuses can create a unified security front that enhances safety and response times. This networked approach ensures that all stakeholders are aware of potential threats and can respond promptly and effectively.

AI Analytics Making a Difference in Student and Patient Safety

One of the most impactful advancements in campus security is the integration of analytics, particularly those focused on aggression and weapons detection. Advanced analytics in acoustics and video can significantly enhance the ability to detect escalating incidents as well as proactively identify weapons — both visible and concealed. This is critical, as weapons detection is not only about identifying threats but also preventing incidents before they occur.

While no system is 100% accurate, recent innovations in this area — particularly in automatic detection and alerts — are making campuses one of the safest places for students and patients to be. The proactive use of these technologies, even with their imperfections, can deter potential threats and provide peace of mind to students, patients, parents, and staff. By leveraging the aforementioned local network of communication, critical information can flow smoothly between different areas and organizations, ultimately protecting the community at large.

The combination of advanced detection systems, a responsive communication network, and real-time analytics can make a substantial difference in enhancing safety across vast campuses. As these technologies continue to evolve, they will play a crucial role in creating a safer and more secure campus environment overall. And as educational and medical institutions continue to evolve, their approach to security must adapt to meet new challenges. By focusing on foundational principles and leveraging modern technologies, these institutions can create campus environments where safety is a given, allowing students, patients, and staff to confidently focus on their education and care without worrying about their safety or privacy.

Matt Kjin is Segment Development Manager, Healthcare, at Axis Communications.

Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety.

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