Digital Signage Deepens Security Awareness at West Virginia University

Digital displays get messages out in seconds with the help of SMS and Email.

In early 2007, the administration at West Virginia University was looking into digital signage as part of a proposed emergency notification solution. Under the plan, the digital signage would also be used for everyday communication as an alternative to posters, bulletin boards and other signage in WVU’s many departments, colleges, dorms, libraries, eating areas, and other public spaces. The fatal shooting incident at Virginia Tech on April 16 of that year pushed those plans into higher gear.

“The Virginia Tech massacre showed the importance of being able to do broad emergency notifications across our campuses,” recalls Spencer W. Graham, II, manager of Operations for Information Stations at WVU. “Not just for us, but I’m sure, for all universities, colleges, and K-12 schools.”

That same day, the university’s Office of The President tasked WVU Television Productions (WVU TVP, now called WVU Video) personnel with immediately developing a 24 x 7 x 365 digital information system that would assist in protecting students, faculty and staff in the event of a campus emergency. This information system was to be a combination of digital signage and other technology. The majority of the time the digital signage component would be used for non-emergency communication as a tool to provide current information to those on campus. This information system became known as the West Virginia Information Stations.

The WVU Video staff consists of Graham and two professional technologists, Jennifer Gillum and Steve Stavar. Graham is responsible for overseeing the deployment and development of digital signage at WVU.

“Our immediate goal for the WVU Information Stations Project was to have 10 digital signs up and running at key pedestrian places on our campuses by that Christmas,” says Graham. “We accomplished that by the middle of that October.”

Now, Graham reports, “As of early 2013, we have deployed nearly 120 signs, all ready to display emergency alerts. Plus we have several multi-display video walls, and are continuing to work on adding new features, like wayfinding, and social media integration.”

And when not in use for the thankfully-rare need to issue an emergency alert, WVU’s digital signage network keeps busy conveying a mix of general and school or department-specific content.

Digital Signage Spanning the Campus

West Virginia University has nearly 30,000 students (as of the Fall 2012 enrollment), roughly 2,500 faculty and over 4,500 other employees. The main campus is in downtown Morgantown, West Virginia, about 70 miles south of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with the Evansdale and Health Sciences campus about three miles away, and regional campuses elsewhere in the state.

Digital displays are currently installed throughout WVU at places in key pedestrian locations such as the reception desks and cafeterias in seventeen student residential complexes; as outdoor signage at some of the platforms of the university’s PRT rapid transit monorail system; and an outdoor sign at the WVU Coliseum basketball arena. Displays range in size from 12 inches to 46 inches, from Samsung and other vendors. (Size, vendor and model depend on each individual deployment.)

The displays are connected to media players – small computers housed in secure data closets at multiple locations. The players receive content from WVU’s central digital signage

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