Southern Hospitality Made Secure

The University of Southern Mississippi’s new residence halls and learning complex include video surveillance and card access control.

Smart public safety professionals know that including security in construction is a sure fire way to get the greatest bang for your building and renovation buck. Officials at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) understood this all too well when they began planning for the construction of four new residence halls and a multipurpose learning facility a few years back.

USM Director of Residence Life Dr. Christopher Crenshaw knew that this would be a great chance for his institution to install state-of-the-art video surveillance and access control in Century Park, an 864-bed, living-learning residential community. “By having new housing, you have the opportunity to implement your wish list to some degree,” he says. “That’s what we were trying to do. We don’t want to go back and cut a hole in sheetrock to run cables.”

The officials at USM also understood that the parents of current and prospective students would be watching closely to see exactly what safety and security solutions would be deployed in this $37.7 million development, which is the largest in the history of the university. USM administrators determined that Persona access control products and Ionit Technologies video surveillance would be most appropriate.

The decision to select Ionit and Persona was rather straightforward: Their equipment was already installed in other parts of the campus, and USM was happy with the performance and customer service of both companies. “We were already using the Persona system, and we have a great relationship with everyone on that end,” says Crenshaw. “When we need something, they are there.”

For surveillance, Ionit was selected because campus officials were concerned with the storage issues, bottlenecks and latency often associated with the transmission of high resolution video via the network. Ionit’s video compression would be able to address these challenges.

Cards Easier to Manage than Keys
USM officials determined that the access control system should use magnetic stripe cards rather than keys. “We felt like it offered more security and it was easier to manage,” says Crenshaw. “If they lose a key, I don’t have to call a physical plant person to come and make a key.”

This is particularly important in the summer, when USM hosts youth camps and conferences. “Trying to get 10-year-old kids to keep a hard key is a challenge,” he adds. “If they lose their access card, however, it’s no big deal.”

Indeed, most mag stripe cards cost 50 to 70 cents each to replace, which is a manageable expense.

In the new residence halls, an access card is required to enter the front door, enter the hallway and enter a room.

Covert Cameras Curb Vandalism
With the video surveillance system, some cameras were installed in covert locations to prevent individuals from tampering with them.

“Some of our residence life buildings are very long,” says USM Chief of Police Bob Hopkins. “You need to have cameras in the hallways, but those have seven or eight foot ceilings, so they are easily accessible. You don’t want people to be able to get to them and vandalize them, so those would most likely be covert.”

Where the video is recorded and stored also plays an important role in maintaining its high frame rate and image resolution. The video system is, for the most part, decentralized, and about 20 cameras per building are connected via short wire runs to a local communications closets. Using short wire runs means the system doesn’t require as many routers and switches. Additionally, the limited amount of wiring/cable runs reduce the need for maintenance and trenching through concrete.

With this decentralized configuration, USM’s police department only pulls video via a Web browser when it is required for an investigation. According to Wayne Hilliard, who is national accounts manager of IDN Acme Inc., the distributor that provided the security equipment on this project, “Anyone who has a laptop and permission rights can view [the video], record, review the images and burn a CD when necessary. They can send it to the Hattiesburg Police Department if they need to.”

Video, Access Data Help With Investigations
So just how does this new video and access control system work in real life? Let’s take the hypothetical case of a stolen laptop from a dorm room.

“First we pull the card access records for that room,” says Crenshaw. “The investigating officers also run through the video if there is a police report generated. At the same time, we’re conducting an internal investigation using our hall staff to talk to students.”

But the incidents that get the most attention from this new system are those involving visitor hours violations. USM’s dorms are not co-ed, so after a certain time of the day, half of the general population (either male or female) should not be in a residence hall. The video and access systems help RAs and security officers identify who should and shouldn’t be there.

But more than anything, the video and access control upgrades provide parents with the peace of mind that their children will be protected. “It sends a message that we value our students’ safety and that we’re going to do what we can to provide them the best community possible.”


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About the Author

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Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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