How Campuses Can Work with Systems Integrators to Address Their Security Challenges

This year’s Director of the Year Award winners deliver keen insights on how to make the most of their relationships with security systems installers and contractors.

How Campuses Can Work with Systems Integrators to Address Their Security Challenges

The Gilbert (Ariz.) Public School District aims to have all its schools’ video security systems completed and integrated by 2024. Each site will be able to review its own cameras, with all footage also fed to a central command center.

The level of security and safety desired by campus security directors throughout their respective organizations entails input, coordination and support from all levels internally and among key external contributors — including systems integrators.

“The biggest thing is having a technology integrator that understands we’re putting a piece of technology in here because we have a problem,” says Anthony Pluretti, executive director of campus safety at Widener University of Greater Philadelphia as well as winner of this year’s Campus Safety Higher Education Director of the Year award. “I want to make sure they fully understand it and that the solutions and resolutions they’re bringing forward actually achieve the solution of that problem. And maybe they as well offer some type of auxiliary services for that location.”

Pluretti, who in addition to technology decisions oversees approximately 75 officers for a college campus with an enrollment of nearly 3,000 students, is among the three campus security directors featured in Security Sales & Integration’s 2022 Security End-User Forum. Also included in the roundtable interview were Virtua Health Assistant Vice President for Safety, Security and Emergency Management Paul Sarnese, who was this year’s Campus Safety Director of the Year winner in healthcare; and Gilbert (Ariz.) Public Schools Security Director Allen Cain, a longtime former policeman and winner of Campus Safety’s 2022 K-12 Director of the Year award.

Southern New Jersey’s Virtua employs some 15,000 people, about 275 of whom are security officers, and the Gilbert District includes 39 schools.

Touching on awareness of various security systems and solutions, interest and intent on exploring or expanding safety and security, histories with security providers and what they look for in such vendors, impact of the pandemic and supply chain are discussed.

Q: What are the top three security or safety challenges right now within your organization?

Anthony Pluretti: The challenges are always changing. In our position, we have to always be the most adaptable and pivot quicker than anyone else. At Widener University, we’re looking at the safety of our institution in the physical realm regarding the community around it. In higher ed, very few of us get lucky to be placed in a community where there’s very low crime in the neighborhood that surrounds the institution.

The biggest challenge is not only are you trying to keep the community safe from itself internally, but also trying to have some type of territorial reinforcement that protects the community from people coming into it and committing crime or crime bleeding into the area.

Surveillance systems are always going to be a challenge. The more technology you implement, the more technology that can break or get outdated or need service. We have a relatively small to medium-sized surveillance system, about 450 cameras. Making sure they are always online, always looking at the right place and are the right solution for the job, making sure that when they do go down, they get back up as quickly as possible is always going to be a challenge.

Same with card readers and stuff like that. Not only that, but also constantly trying to optimize and update that as new technologies come out so we have the right technology for the problem.

Then everyone, post-pandemic and with the Great Resignation, is dealing with staff shortages and how to remain competitive as inflation continues to go up and pay is going to have to continue to go up. All of us have margins. It’s difficult to maintain that as it’s changing every day in what’s needed to be competitive.

Paul Sarnese: COVID certainly forced migration of a lot of people outside of healthcare. Staffing and recruiting have really been a challenge. Every business is a microcosm of society and we’re seeing an increase in violence in society. Look at the airline industry and the increase in assaults they have experienced the past 12 months. We’re seeing the same thing in healthcare. But violence in healthcare is nothing new. Healthcare employees are four to five times more likely to be a victim of aggravated assault than any other industry. Those things don’t positively affect our ability to recruit and retain people.

As my friend says, “We’re all fishing from the same pier when it comes to recruiting for security officers, and the pool is getting a little shallow.” Then because of the financial impact COVID had on healthcare organizations, certainly safety and security, we’re competing for the same capital and infrastructure and operating dollars as everybody else. We have to be good salesmen. We have to justify any new expenditure we want to implement, if it’s a system or a process or whatever it may be. We’re competing with others looking for the same dollars for maybe clinical equipment that’s the latest, greatest technology to heal a particular disease.

Allen Cain: I could probably give you a list of 20 or 30 or so challenges. When I took this role more than four years ago, I came into the organization thinking I was going to tweak what they had in place. However, I quickly realized the school district was way behind probably the rest of the country in regard to safety and security. I spent my first two, three weeks going through the whole school district and doing my own threat assessment, figuring out where our weaknesses were, our vulnerabilities. In turn, I built my wish list. The top three things were fencing around our campuses, the camera technology, and secured entryways into the front of our schools.

Q: Let’s get deeper into the weeds of the security solutions presently deployed by your organizations.

Pluretti: We use a local technology integrator called NextGen, and they’ve been great. We use Genetec as our video management system and interface. We have a couple of upgrades inside of Genetec we’ve implemented the past couple years that have been key to making our camera system a little bit more usable and user-friendly for our staff. We use C-CURE for all of our card access control. Alarm Center is a local solution with double alarms, which utilizes our Silent Knight fire panel also on campus.

We use ARMS for our records management system, including CAD, parking, property management and recordkeeping for our officers and incident reports. We use Enterprise Fleet Management for all the institution’s vehicles. We have electric vehicles, so I’m using Enphase for all of our GEM cars and energy management solutions and monitoring. Then our mass notification vendor is Omnilert, and we’re working with them to develop some custom solutions and have done some upgrades over the years as well.

Sarnese: For our access control system, we use IDenticard’s PremiSys, and we’ve been successful interfacing that with our video management and infant abduction systems. For our video management system, we use the Hanwha Techwin product. For our infant abduction, we use Hugs. They all interface. When a panic button is pushed and activated, our access control system pops up a dialogue box that says panic button has been activated at the cashier on the second floor.

The video management system pops up 10 seconds of recorded video prior to the pushing of the panic button while we’re looking at the actual video of that area. Then it provides our staff with directions to respond. With Hugs, not only does it lock down doors upon activation, it also pops up cameras, locks down our elevators and locks doors and so forth. There’s a lot of touch-and-go systems there.

We use Everbridge as our mass notification system. We’ve been very successful using that during COVID, now during monkeypox, and other threats we’ve had throughout the organization. It’s a really good tool to be able to push information out quickly. We actually just started utilizing their Safety Connect piece, which is for our staff that is working in the community. It’s basically a panic button on your mobile device. It provides a virtual escort as well as literally a panic button that will notify the local police department in that geographical area.

As our incident reporting system, we’re currently using RL Solutions. Right before COVID, we implemented another mobile solution, which we’ve gotten a lot of great feedback from our employees, called My-EOP. It allows us to put our emergency operations plan or any type of emergency information at the fingertips of our employees, literally right on their phone. Our entire emergency operations plan is on there. All of the incident action plans, our incident command system forms, emergency supplies, emergency contacts, that information is there.

Cain: When I came into the situation, we had a hodgepodge of camera systems around the school district. Each school was using some-thing different — some were so outdated that they had been purchased many years ago at RadioShack. I quickly learned we needed an enterprise system around the district that was all interconnected, integrated together. We went out for a bond with the local voters, the taxpayers, and we were successful in that bond. We garnered the money that we needed for the project. Through a lengthy RFP program, we ended up hiring a local integrator who we’ve been lucky with. They’ve been phenomenal.

We went with the Motorola product, Avigilon, for the camera systems. We’re still in the infancy stages of the installation. Out of 39 schools, we’re right now at about seven schools completed. They’re presently working on our district office. Our goal is by within the next year-and-a-half to two years having all 40 schools completed, all integrated. Each site will be able to review their own cameras with all the schools being fed to my office, a command center, security operations center, all being fed to here.

We have card access at some locations, not everywhere. That’s another bid process we’re looking at. I’m hoping whatever system we end up going with integrates in with our camera system so they all work flawlessly together. Another topic on my wish list is secured entryways at the schools. We have five complete with three being worked on right now.

In that secured entryway is a Raptor system we use for visitor management. We use that to vet visitors to our campus, and for the sites that do have them it’s integrated throughout the district. For the alarm systems, we use Bosch combined with BoldNet so we can control the alarms at night. The card access system we presently use, and I don’t know if we’re staying with it, is Lenel OnGuard. For our mass notification system, we’re using InformaCast, which we do through our Cisco phones.

Q: How have your experiences with integrators gone overall, and what do you look for in a technology provider?

Pluretti: The best relationship you can have with your integrator is an honest one. There was a concern we had regarding the right camera for the right job. It’s about calling them on that and saying, “Hey, listen, I don’t think, based on the camera you’re putting here and the technical data I looked at, that it has a high enough PPF to actually be able to identify not only just detect.” It’s about you yourself knowing a little bit more about that or sitting down with a salesperson or a service manager and saying, “Hey, teach me a little bit more about this so I can talk a little bit more intelligently about it and bring in the right solution.”

Because right now with our integrators, we’re putting a lot of trust in the solution they’re providing us and that the cost is on par with what our needs are. It’s important to have those conversations once in a while and say, “Listen, we’re not satisfied with X or we’re not satisfied with the service or with the product.”

It’s extremely healthy to go through a regular RFP process from which your vendor has to continue to compete at a market level and retain them as a client. It’s scary for us as directors to always have to think about going to a new vendor because of the amount of time and energy it would take to bring someone else in. But complacency sometimes leads to us paying forward in the long run. The vendor needs to continue to win our business in order to stay with us.

Cain: Honesty and trust are the real big ones. I don’t need somebody coming to me with top-tier security level experience like at a government facility. We’re a school district, we’re not going to need that, we’re not going to use that. I look for somebody who has experience in the educational world and K-12 at that. Then most important to me is communication. If I need them, I want to be able to get ahold of them. I have had experiences with some of the legacy systems I was handed down and the integrators who installed those where it was rough times just even reaching someone. Communication is key.

Sarnese: Nothing happens without trust, and you have to trust your integrators providing you with the best solution for whatever problem you’re trying to solve. I’ve been in this business now for 35 years. I’ve had some bad experiences with integrators because the trust wasn’t there or their service wasn’t there or the communication wasn’t there. Or there was just one product line they were selling and when I wanted to look at others they were unwilling and that destroyed the relationship.

I like to deal with integrators that work in multiple industries because I’m sure others have solutions or best practices I could deploy in my organization. I really like the integrator to have a broad spectrum of clients because they see different solutions in different applications for things.

If my integrator has not looked at servicing or is unable to install a certain product I really like, if they’re unwilling to do the research and become familiar with that and potentially be a vendor for that product, that’s a dealbreaker. As the customer, I should be driving what the integrator is providing me. I like an integrator that is willing to listen and see what else is out there so we can learn together.

Q: Assuming cost and budget are the biggest impediments to realizing your security solutions goals, what other hurdles do you face?

Pluretti: It would revolve around personnel and availability. Anytime we’re going to bring a technology to one of our campuses, that requires IT to be involved, it requires facilities to be involved and it requires some other partners. Post-pandemic, everyone, regardless of field they’re in, has inherited this new expectation where we all have to be doing 10,000 things at once. Everyone has had this unbelievable pace assigned to their level of work.

It’s become more challenging to integrate new technologies with those same campus partners that used to be able to just drop what they were currently doing and help with something because they themselves have this impossible workload and tasks to deal with. It’s just this new dynamic we’ve all been thrust into where they’re no longer available to help and aid in the way that they used to. That has delayed a lot of our projects. It’s made it so that a solution we’re used to plugging in and taking only a couple of weeks now takes a couple of months, and it slows the integration of those technologies.

What we’ve seen now is that it takes a lot more planning, a lot more strategizing and a lot more notification of if it’s going to impact or we’re going to need somebody else, let them know further ahead of time than you’re used to so that they can weave that in and give you back timelines in which you can integrate. We’ve had to modify our approach a little bit to include them earlier in the process. We’re also looking at how a lot of our systems technology-wise can help others.

We are looking at a system right now called ARIA that shows all the devices that are connected to your access points throughout the institution and, while you can’t track any single device, it shows them as dots on a map. Then being able to identify the most common pathways people take during fire alarms, the most common pathways and thoroughfares and entrances from which people enter a building. If there is a fire alarm and we’re seeing there are a couple of cellphones still connected in that building, being able to directly go to those types of locations helps not just security but helps across the institution.

They now provide a solution where we’re able to see max occupancy of that building and the times and dates or days of the week we are seeing the highest amount of occupancy. We can see when people are leaving the building at night so we can turn our temperatures down or up based on that, and it’s leading to increased energy savings. Then IT is now using that as an IT health-checker for their access points.

When they see a big dark area on the map where they know there shouldn’t be people, they know that an access point has an issue. We haven’t brought that online yet, but the breadth at which that aids the institution is astronomical. It’s irreplaceable once it goes into place, but it’s getting it there that I think is more of a challenge. It probably is equal to cost as a challenge right now.

One final thing, the microchip shortage is definitely hurting all of us in this realm. We have cameras, card readers. Even if you’re using the HID cards for access cards, even the chips for those, getting just the ID cards is sometimes a six- to eight-month backlog to get all these solutions.

Cain: The supply chain has been a killer on many of the products we were trying to implement or that we already have in place but are trying to get a replacement. Those HID cards are ridiculous. Aside from that, quite honestly my biggest hurdle is a cultural change. I came into my position brand new. My position didn’t even exist before I took it. They didn’t have anybody who was over security. They had many different people who took some initiative toward security, but the role didn’t exist. I came in and did all this fact-finding and that’s how I built my wish list as I stated earlier. On the back of my office door here, it reads, safety over convenience.

From our staff to our students to even visitors to our campus they were used to convenience. It is a very conservative neighborhood that encompasses our school district. We had this open campus feel to everything and people felt they could walk onto a campus anytime, walk right through the building, never being asked to see an ID, never being asked their purpose of being there. Now, you walk into our high schools that once were wide open, now they get stopped, they get asked for an ID, they have to be buzzed into the campus.

At first, it was difficult. There was a lot of complaining from visitors to the campus, but as the four years have progressed, people have become accustomed to it, they learn. We know what happened in Texas a few months back. I don’t want to use that as a jumping-off point, but when those tragedies happen it really propels my area. We hate to use that to propel what we need, but in reality it does. It causes naysayers, these people who would rather just walk through the school unchallenged, to reconsider.

Sarnese: Access to capital dollars and infrastructure dollars is a challenge across the industry. Supply chain is going to impact us for quite some time. Staffing is going to impact us for quite some time. There’s a term we’re hearing almost on a daily basis that was typically reserved for IT when they talked about what the network can handle: bandwidth. The network can only handle so much bandwidth. Now we’re talking about our time and our energy as bandwidth. There’s always competing project, competing interest.

It’s about, do we have the bandwidth to actually get it done? IT has to have the bandwidth to support me, facilities has to have the bandwidth to support and so forth. Collectively, we have to decide where we’re going to spend our time and energy to get the biggest bang for our buck so that we can actually implement it, and not implement this one project 5% and this project 10%. What can we actually implement successfully and make an impact in our organization?


This article originally appeared in CS sister publication Security Sales & Integration and has been edited. Scott Goldfine is SSI’s editor in chief.

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