How to Secure an Open Campus

Here’s how Clemson, Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD, Mount Royal University, and the University of Georgia have improved security while maintaining a welcoming campus.

How to Secure an Open Campus

Image via Adobe, by zimmytws

Multi-building K-12 and higher education campuses pose a challenge for security professionals. Schools, colleges, and universities are often designed to emphasize openness and freedom of movement. In certain areas, there may be no doors or fences to lock. Classes are often distributed across multiple buildings. Students, staff, and visitors come and go throughout the day and night, and there are often common areas both inside and outside.

An open campus feels friendly and reduces friction for students when moving from building to building, but this freedom must be balanced with the need for security. How can public safety and security teams maintain a secure campus environment and still preserve the feeling of openness and inclusivity?

Build a Fortress, Not a Prison

Your campus security should protect people and property without making people feel watched, mistrusted, or fenced in. Thankfully, innovative technology and software solutions can enhance safety in subtle and unobtrusive ways.

The key is to choose a fully unified software solution so that your video management, access control, and other security systems are monitored and controlled in one place. A complete solution that is fully unified makes life easier for security teams. It also simplifies pricing and reduces the total cost of ownership.

For example, Clemson University in South Carolina spans thousands of acres in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Over time, the university implemented four separate access control systems and more than 30 different video systems. Switching between systems and departments during an incident or investigation slowed the security team. The university knew it was wise to choose a solution that could unify the video and access control systems into one platform.

After an upgrade to a unified platform, Clemson’s security operators now work from a central control room to monitor the campus. Their unified system allows them to effectively monitor thousands of doors across 120 buildings, including sites not on their main campus. The university also migrated their cameras to a unified platform. Now, their security team can see all video and door activity within one intuitive interface.

At the K-12 level, the team at Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District (CFBISD) in Texas decided it was time to re-assess and enhance their safety measures. The district is comprised of 24 elementary schools, six middle schools, five high schools, and three specialty program centers.

Their various security systems were managed separately, and integration between them wasn’t possible. Having multiple disparate systems slowed investigations and limited visibility of what was happening across the district.

District officials decided to unify their systems to manage and maintain all their systems from a single intuitive platform. Now, the district’s central monitoring team can review and respond to alarms more effectively. They’ve also automated reporting to track any recurring issues, such as doors that are kept open too long or wrong access pins entered at intrusion panels.

Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta, Canada is another example of a sprawling campus with complex security needs. Based on a decommissioned military base, the campus includes many wide-open spaces that are difficult to monitor.

Over the years, the university added new layers of security, but there were many areas on campus without proper coverage. Over time, older hardware began to fail, plus the legacy software system was hard to navigate. Upgrading to a new system that unified video management, access control, and intrusion alarms made it easier to zero in on problem areas when an incident is detected or reported.

Security Improvements Can Enhance the Campus Experience

In addition to enhancing security, certain system upgrades can also streamline the school experience for students, staff, and visitors.

For example, the University of Georgia upgraded its older proprietary access control system to a newer and more flexible unified solution. The new system supports mobile access credentials, which means students no longer need to carry key cards to get into their dorms. They can just unlock the door with their phones. They can also use their phones to make purchases in and around the campus. Students can open their dorm doors, purchase food, and make a phone call from one mobile device.

Visitor management is also much easier. Staff can easily issue temporary access cards to conference attendees, researchers, contractors, or other visitors. These authorized guests can roam freely through designated areas on campus.

Likewise, some schools have implemented automatic license plate recognition (ALPR) technology to help monitor parking lots. License plate information for staff and students is registered within a database to make sure lots are used correctly and access is given during designated hours.

As an added benefit, security teams can also connect their ALPR system with local law enforcement to monitor parking lots for vehicles on watchlists. If a suspicious vehicle triggers an alert, campus security teams and first responders are immediately notified.

Practices to Adopt for a Campus that Is Both Open and Secure

When you’re considering upgrading your security solution, the first step is to clarify what problems you need a new system to solve.

Begin by gathering stakeholders and experienced security professionals to conduct a threat assessment. Ask yourself: What do we need to protect? Where are we vulnerable today? What does our current system do well? Where does it fall short?

Once you have a good sense of where you are now and where you want to be, work with an experienced integrator or a security consultant to find solutions. People often jump to adding more locks, cameras, fences, or walls, but there may be more targeted and effective solutions that are less intrusive — and possibly even less expensive.

Within a unified system, sensors can dramatically shorten security or public safety team response  time to an incident. Motion sensors, gunshot or glass break alarms, door-open alarms, or even vape detection sensors can be installed in selected areas to address specific concerns.

Video analytics can also be a powerful tool to protect open spaces. Modern systems can be configured to run analytics during certain times of the day, or alert security personnel only if several conditions are met.

For example, if a person loiters in a particular zone for a certain amount of time, the system will alert a security person and send a link to view live video footage of the location. Operators can check to see if something suspicious is happening. If the person is just walking through and doesn’t stay, the alert isn’t triggered. In highly sensitive areas, tools like LiDAR or radar can also be used to create an invisible perimeter after hours to add more layers of protection.

Good Campus Security Requires a Cultural Change

Modern security technology is incredibly powerful, but the tech will only work as well as the culture allows. Staff and students alike need to understand how to use it and why it’s important.

You can invest in a top-of-the-line access control system, but if teachers and students routinely prop open doors, that’s a significant vulnerability. Likewise, if you have an intercom system to buzz people into a secured area, but the person who answers these calls doesn’t confirm that visitors are who they say they are, it compromises the security of your system.

Written policies and procedures can ensure that everyone follows the proper steps to keep sensitive areas secure. You can even implement systems that have digital standard operating procedures (SOPs) that automatically indicate the next steps.

For example, if a propped door alarm signals a potential issue, the digital SOPs can quickly guide the security team on the next steps. Operators don’t need to spend time looking for written procedures. Everything is quickly available in their unified security platform.

However, don’t underestimate the power of communicating a few simple rules to help the community develop safer habits. Reminders such as closing doors behind you, reporting suspicious behavior, and looking at a video before granting access are good habits to encourage.

Ask For Support

Technology changes fast. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your integrator or software partner and ask questions. There’s no obligation to buy. You’ll quickly discover whether a potential partner is eager to sell equipment, or if they are genuinely interested in helping you find solutions.

Look for a partner who will take the time to help you understand what’s possible and work with you to create a plan that is customized to your priorities and constraints. Likewise, consider open architecture solutions that will evolve with you as your needs change. As your campus grows or manufacturers introduce new technology, an open architecture solution will allow you to invest in new solutions while potentially still using some of our old hardware.

You can discuss options with a trusted security integrator so you and your team can make the best decision for your campus’s current and future security needs.

Bruce A. Canal, CPP is the School Security Subject Matter Expert and Account Executive for Education at Genetec.

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