Upgrading Your Campus Physical Security System? Rip-and-Replace Isn’t Necessary

Carefully plan your security system upgrades, select the right partners, and choose an open architecture platform to minimize disruptions and costs.

Upgrading Your Campus Physical Security System? Rip-and-Replace Isn’t Necessary

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Upgrading a campus physical security system is a complex and often daunting task. Yet modernizing obsolete access control, video management, or other crucial systems is necessary to keep students safe. While systems were once used simply to monitor and record, new and updated security systems can now be used to proactively mitigate safety and security incidents.  In fact, the latest advances in technology have enabled security professionals to think more about the prevention of incidents than ever before.

Thankfully, modernizing your security infrastructure doesn’t always require a complete rip-and-replace. You can minimize the disruption and expense associated with upgrading systems by choosing an open architecture platform that is compatible with a wide selection of hardware. Then you’re able to plan and prioritize upgrades gradually over time as needs and risks evolve.

Plan for Security System Upgrade Success

Whether you’re installing a new system, replacing obsolete technology, or adding new features, planning is key.

The first step is to clarify the problems you’re trying to solve. Make sure the technology and systems you choose are right for your needs. This may entail assembling a team of stakeholders to identify current needs and pain points. Then assess known and potential threats. Together, you can outline a vision of what you’d like to achieve with the new campus security system.

You want clarity on essential questions like:

  • What areas are you protecting?
  • Who will use the system?
  • What works well today?
  • What pain points or problems do you want the new system to address?
  • What specific video management, access control, or other features do you need?
  • What kinds of analytics and reports would be helpful?

Designing a system that addresses the specific areas of concern ensures that budget and resources are allocated effectively, and your team provides the best solution to your community.

For example, after completing a vulnerability assessment, one university determined it needed to upgrade its video management system to address specific safety and security problems. Because the institution understood the exact nature of the security threats it faced, it established installation standards for any future video system. Requirements included features such as motion-sensing, high-quality day and night vision, and vandal-resistant casing for cameras installed below a certain height.

Engage Stakeholders in the Process

When considering the purchase of new technologies, think about what’s being proposed as a business solution as well as a security system. Modern security software collects a vast amount of data that can be an asset to operations and facilities managers as well as leaders making business decisions. For example, while automatic license plate recognition (ALPR) has clear security benefits, it can also help an institution improve parking payment systems and monitor parking lot usage.

Consider reaching out to a wider group of stakeholders for input on how your security system could enhance their department. Examples include:

  • Residential life
  • Event managers
  • Parking authorities
  • Amenity providers
  • Campus health and wellness
  • Police and public safety
  • Athletics

Each of these stakeholder groups may have different requirements or use cases that could affect how you set up your new system. For example, stakeholders connected to residential life may focus on solutions that prevent or deter dangerous behavior and help students and staff feel safer.

Administrators may be concerned with insurance and risk management. They may desire a safety and security system that makes it easier to collect statistical information.

Law enforcement professionals will want a system that makes it easy to retrieve evidence connected to investigations, or that allows for real-time monitoring of a situation as it unfolds.

Analyze Campus Crime Data to Discover Trends

Gathering data on crime and safety trends can help to identify priorities or specific areas of concern that a new system should address. For example, after compiling housing crime statistics, one major metropolitan university found that property crime, burglary, and theft accounted for the majority of crimes reported on campus housing. Knowing this, the university was able to determine where to focus its security improvements.

Likewise, if crime statistics show that specific areas on campus are hot spots for crime or safety concerns, you can put your attention on brainstorming solutions to address those issues.

It’s important to take an inventory of the security measures already in place and evaluate their effectiveness. If data shows something’s not working as intended, it may be possible to make improvements without replacing the whole system.

As an example, consider visitor access. Many schools are now controlling exterior doors with access control readers to restrict entry to only authorized people. Yet they may not have a reliable way to properly vet visitors who request entry.

If the front desk associate doesn’t verify the visitor before unlocking the door, the system isn’t secure. You could close the gap by adding an audiovisual intercom. The associate granting access would be able to identify the visitor and their reason for requesting access.

School administration may also want to formalize a process to assess whether a visitor needs to enter the building. For example, if a parent is dropping off an item or a delivery arrives, these things could be left at a pickup area near the door instead of coming inside.

Sometimes the improvements don’t require hardware. In many cases, the change that’s needed is a procedural one. If staff or students have a habit of propping open doors, the most effective security response is training on why that should be avoided.

In one school district, the solution to reducing propped doors was to create an incentive contest. Whichever school had the fewest hold-open alarms won gift cards to give to the teachers as a prize. Doing this helped draw attention to the concern and encouraged teachers to change their habits with a fun contest.

Preparation Pays Off

Security technologies are evolving at such a fast pace these days that it’s difficult even for the most dedicated professionals to keep up with what’s new. It’s worth spending the time to do your research and to meet with manufacturers and vendors to learn more about what’s possible.

Inviting potential vendors to meet with you before you write your RFP can help clarify priorities and reveal new possibilities you didn’t consider. Speaking to vendors doesn’t impose any obligation to buy and can help you feel more confident as you prepare to make decisions.

You can learn a lot about a potential partner by requesting a demo and asking them to help you brainstorm solutions for your trickiest problems. The best providers aren’t pressure-oriented in their sales approach. They’ll demonstrate their solutions and encourage you to take the time you need to make a decision.

The manufacturers and integrators you partner with will be able to help you identify which elements of your security system can be re-used and which ones must be replaced. For example, even if you’re replacing legacy hardware elements, you may be able to leverage some of the cabling from the older system, which could reduce the cost of purchasing and installing new cable.

The goal is to match the equipment to your needs. Sometimes, that might mean buying fewer devices but being more strategic about the purchase and placement. As an example, higher-quality cameras combined with careful placement and effective video analytics might be able to cover the same area with fewer cameras. You may also discover that sensors, barriers, or other solutions are more appropriate than cameras for the problem you need to solve.

Find the Right Integrator Partners

Once you’ve completed your assessment and reviewed options, look for an integrator with specific expertise and certifications in that product or solution. Consider asking for recommendations from others in your industry or from your local law enforcement. You may also want to hire a consultant who is well-versed in campus security and can help you navigate the process.

The ideal scenario is to select a partner in security management, who can deliver a complete and holistic solution addressing every aspect of security from intrusion management and access control to video, analytics, and more. Experienced integrators that are relationship-oriented are focused on long-term value, not just a quick sale. Discuss with them your options for a unified, open-architecture system. Both will help you meet your short-term and long-term goals.

As you start the process of selecting a new campus security system, remember that doing the homework to properly plan, analyze, and research security solutions takes time. However, you’ll find the effort pays off. Preparation helps you avoid overbuying or underbuying, which positively impacts the total cost of ownership of your system. Putting in the work will also improve your confidence when it’s time to select a system and help you avoid expensive mistakes.


Bruce A. Canal, CPP is the public sector account executive for Genetec, Inc. Canal joined Genetec in 2023 and is responsible for developing and driving business strategy for the education vertical. He brings over 25 years of education-related security experience. Canal is the former director of physical security for the eighth-largest school district in the United States and previously served as an officer for the Indiana State Police.

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