IP Surveillance Impacts Higher Ed

Five years ago, the campus of Stephens College in Columbia, Mo. – a private women’s school with about 600 students on campus – not only didn’t have a single security camera monitoring it, it also didn’t have a full-time director of campus safety.

Today, though, officials at the school that dates back to 1833 are considering expanding the 25-camera IP video system it has scattered across its approximately 30 buildings – including an on-campus early childhood center that goes from preschool to fifth grade – and adding an access control component that will help students be even more secure.

Much of the credit for this transformation can go to All Systems, the Kansas City-based life safety integrator that started talks with Stephens College officials shortly after Tony Coleman came on board as director of campus safety and the school hired president Dianne Lynch.

“They knew they wanted video surveillance, but they didn’t know how they wanted it to work,” says Scott Lord, executive officer at All Systems, who started talking with school officials around the time when Lynch was hired in 2009. “There was a quite a bit of resistance [at first] so we had to do a lot of demos.”

The new administration and a tight budget had more to do with the lengthy process than any sort of formal resistance on Stephens College’s part, says Coleman.

“It always comes down to budget,” he says. To ease that concern, Stephens officials agreed on a phased multi-year installation program that started with external cameras and will continue going forward with internal cameras and a large-scale access control system.

In addition to the on-campus buildings, Coleman and his team monitor the activity for an off-campus stable that is part of the college’s popular and long-standing equestrian program.

Getting Started

The first phase, installed during the 2011-2012 winter break, includes Arecont Vision 180-degree cameras (some 5 megapixel and some 2 megapixel), Acti dome cameras and bullet cameras, says Lord. The cameras are mostly in green spaces around the campus, but Coleman notes a person can be tracked from one end of the grounds to the other using the system.

The initial thought about installing video surveillance came about because the college campus is often used as a cut-across to and from downtown hot spots, says Coleman. The cameras have helped to find the perpetrator of an on-campus assault in one of the parking lots, including a description of the cars involved in the altercation, leading to an arrest, says Lord.

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“It’s really turned the administration around,” he says. Return on investment was the toughest part of All Systems’ sales pitch, says Lord.

“Nobody wants to know what’s happening [on their campus],” he says. At the time he started talking to school officials, Stephens had only one full-time and one part-time security guard; today, there are four full-time and two part-time officers.

The cameras have helped Coleman and his team find and investigate thefts, property destruction and loitering in many cases over the past couple of years, he says.

“It’s helped them change how they do patrols and manage incidents,” says Lord. “Now, they can recognize incidents and be proactive to prevent them.” While the cameras haven’t necessarily cut down on crime on the Stephens College campus, it’s helped Coleman and his staff to better manage and solve them when they do occur.

One area that’s seen improvements in security-related issues is the crossover bridge that has been a hotspot for injured riders who ride too fast. Since installing barriers on the bridge, those injuries have been cut down, says Lord.

Most recently, Coleman and the Stephens security team distributed a photo of an unidentified man who was going around campus posting flyers on buildings, warning students and staff he was also sending out friend requests on Facebook saying he worked and went to school at Stephens, neither of which is true. Coleman shared the photo, isolated from security camera footage, with other schools and organizations in the area.

Stephens College uses the Rave Alert emergency notification system, a direct-to-the-end-user solution that helps them spread the word during crisis situations. Rave provides critical updates and instructions to students and staff via email, SMS, voice, RSS and social networks and is used widely on college campuses.

All Systems was not involved in deploying Rave on the Stephens campus, but Lord says both mass notification/emergency communication (MNEC) systems and video surveillance systems are gaining popularity on college campus across the country.

“Almost all campuses have video surveillance now,” says Lord. All Systems is working with two colleges and three school districts on MNEC solutions, he says, and Boston College and Virginia Tech are among the schools where MNEC is part of the five-year plan.

Inside the Installation

Because some of the buildings on the Stephens College campus date back 180 years and are made of brick, marble and stone in many cases, the placement of the cameras proved to be a challenge for Lord and his team in some instances.

“It was hard to find a place to get the field of view we wanted,” he says. “These buildings weren’t set up to have data closets, so that was another challenge as far as getting the infrastructure in place.” All Systems installers worked with the college’s maintenance staff and was able to put its cabling behind some of the ornate moldings around campus, hiding them from plain view as to not disrupt the campus’ aesthetic beauty, says Lord.

Another obstacle came when the school’s new wireless network crashed all of the security cameras, says Lord. Since then, the integrator worked with the school’s IT department and created dedicated bandwidth for the security system and bandwidth for the students. The cameras operate on a separate VLAN with password protection so they can’t be accessed by students, says Lord.

“This has been a very beneficial program,” says Coleman. “It’s a huge thing for the students we have here now, knowing that they have more protection than they used to have and more resources if they have some sort of issue. It’s also been huge for the parents of the students to know their daughters are protected and it’s been a big selling point during campus visits for prospective students and their parents to know we have this in place and we’ll be adding to it in the future.”

Speaking of the future, the next phase of the installation is likely to include cameras in the dorms and other buildings around campus as well as a full-scale access control system, says Coleman. The dorms have access control today, he says, but the new system would only allow people who belonged in a particular building to access it once it’s installed. There’s no particular timetable for the next phase but Coleman doesn’t expect it to be delayed too much longer.

This story originally ran in CS‘ sister publication Commercial Integrator.

Related Whitepaper: Realizing the True Value of Today’s Megapixel Camera’s

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