Enhancing Residence Hall Security with Modern Technology

Access control and video surveillance are key ways you can protect your college campus residence halls.

Enhancing Residence Hall Security with Modern Technology

Photo via Adobe, by Carlo

Access control systems, video surveillance, and emergency notification systems are standard on most college campuses, yet many security teams are working with disparate or outdated systems that have become inadequate, overly complex, and costly. While the cost of upgrading systems can be significant, moving to a modern, unified security platform can dramatically improve the overall effectiveness of these systems and reduce the total cost of ownership.

This includes the security in residence halls, which come with their own complexities. Residence halls have additional layers of visitor access, as well as privacy concerns. People expect a different level of privacy and anonymity at home, yet criminals may take advantage of spaces that are not properly monitored and secured.

With modern security technologies, campuses can reduce crime and theft in residence halls. In addition, they can help protect individuals’ privacy, in addition to helping public safety, resident life, and facilities departments operate more efficiently.

Begin Your Residence Hall Upgrades with Access Control

In a residence hall, one of the first components to consider is the access control system (ACS). Most campuses have moved beyond old brass keys to electronic access control. Modern systems can enable much more granular control and secure access to select rooms or doors. They can be unified with video surveillance to dramatically reduce nuisance alarms, and monitor who is coming in and out of those areas with specific credentials.

Switching from a key fob to mobile phone credentials often appeals to college students. Since students are not likely to leave home without their phones, there are fewer incidents of lost keys and unauthorized entry using stolen cards or key fobs. Instead, students can use an app on their phone with their credentials for easy access to their dorms.

But it isn’t just students who need to enter residence halls. Visitors, delivery personnel, facilities, and maintenance staff, as well as security team members also come and go from these buildings.

With a digital identity management system, select staff and contractors can be granted full access permissions on the specific days and times when they are scheduled to work. Automated processes can also be put in place to give temporary access to visitors or delivery personnel based on credentials set up in the system.

Enhance Visual Monitoring with Video Surveillance

Video surveillance is also an important layer of technology because it can help the security team see beyond the residence building. Security staff can monitor what’s happening in parking lots and common spaces to understand the flow of people, efficiently taking investigative action to respond to incidents.

In a residence hall, privacy is of particular concern. Newer video management technologies can be configured to automatically blur or pixelate faces in video footage so that student privacy is protected. If there is an incident and investigators need to identify who was present or nearby, teams can ensure only authorized people can view the original footage without pixelation; also allowing for full reporting on anyone who requested access to the video footage.

Ideally, video systems work in tandem with access control. However, with many legacy installations, the two often operate independently. When security teams are managing two different systems, it can take time to cross-reference data, such as the list of cameras with the list of doors. These teams may discover that there is an intruder in a building and know the location, but it can be challenging to find the few seconds of critical video footage of the incident.

With a unified platform, finding the right video feed takes seconds, not hours. On the system dashboard, security personnel can review data from both cameras and access control within the unified view. If a door has been left ajar or if a student loses his or her keys and asks that a door be unlocked, an operator can easily look at the live video directly from the campus map to get a better read on the situation before choosing how to respond.

Related: 7 Essentials of a Modern Campus Residence Hall Security Program

With video analytics, teams can automate alerts of unusual activity before a suspicious person gets near a door. For example, if a camera detects a car going the wrong way or a group of individuals approaching a restricted area late at night, security teams can be automatically alerted with the appropriate protocols, so they can easily determine how to respond.

Security Systems Can Boost Operational Efficiency

With more tools enabling the option to reduce nuisance alarms, remotely lock and unlock doors, and identify potential problems before there is a crisis, campus security teams can operate more efficiently. Centralizing control of many systems in unified display may even require fewer security officers to monitor and manage these systems, reducing overall operational costs.

Teams can also analyze the data from various sources to gain important insights. For example, if the same door is constantly left ajar in a dorm room, staff can review the relevant camera footage to see if it is a maintenance issue (the door doesn’t close properly) or a behavior issue (someone is propping the door open to let in their friends). This allows the team to address the problem promptly before nuisance alarms become a drain on resources. Identifying patterns in incident reports and alerts can also help campus security officers locate hot spots for crime or behavior that could be mitigated in various ways.

The key to making the most of the investment in controllers, cameras, sensors, license plate readers, and other hardware is to connect everything through a unified software platform. This allows security teams to view and filter data from all devices in one interface. Since the software is based on the same code, data and information can flow seamlessly between systems, and updates can be made to one component or the entire system as needed. Training and onboarding are also easier because there is only one piece of software for staff to learn.

Find the Right Balance

Finding a balance between securing buildings and maintaining the flow of campus visitors, students, and faculty isn’t always easy, but the right solutions can help. A unified platform gives campus security teams more visibility and control over their environment. This ultimately helps improve student and staff safety as they move between classrooms, dorms, and cafeterias, on campus.

Rick Taylor is Genetec Inc.’s public sector national director. 

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