A Different View of Protection for Outdoor Spaces

New technologies make it easier for outdoor areas to be secured

Take a moment to envision a typical day on a school’s campus—either at a K-12 school or at a college/university. There are a vast number of open grassy areas with students practicing sports, studying and reading, enjoying lunch outdoors or walking between buildings. K-12 schools might also have children playing on jungle gyms, on basketball courts or in fields. For the most part, school safety is typically thought of within the four walls of the facility, but these outdoor open spaces pose unique security challenges.

Colleges and universities, especially ones that aren’t located in urban centers, often have many buildings spread across vast areas, all of which are the responsibility of the security director. Low lighting and limited visibility in these expansive areas may make it difficult to quickly and accurately identify dangerous situations. But new technologies and products are making it easier for these areas to be secured.

Rise of AI

Outdoor protection for campuses requires the monitoring of numerous surveillance camera feeds—which many school districts might not have the manpower to watch 24/7 (especially in school districts with a significant number of schools to protect). This is where new technology, such as artificial intelligence (AI), can be useful. Video surveillance is on the rise for campuses across the country, as more and more schools expand their security budgets, and AI, when implemented correctly, can maximize the investment these school districts are making in an effort to protect students and staff.

Incorporating AI-based video analytics into a school environment enables greater awareness to occur, and this ability is only getting stronger as the tecnnology advances. In the “new” world of AI, anomaly detection or incident predictions can change the face of security.

There are companies now, for example, that have developed software that can analyze every image of a video, automatically learn what normal behavior is and identify exceptions. After the computer looks at that video for a while and learns, it can identify any time an anomaly occurs. If a school has a policy of clear backpacks, for instance, and the computer detects a student walking in the parking lot carrying a dark duffel bag, that can trigger an alert for officials to check whether the student means to do harm. This intelligence is taking the protection of students—both inside and outside of a school— to a new level.

Advanced Analytics

Over the last 20 years, we’ve discovered that traditional analytics have a hard time interpreting real life but an easy time following instructions. Analytics functionality, such as facial and license plate recognition, is benefitting from advancements in machine learning and AI, becoming more accurate and extensible to not only recognizing particular faces and identities, but also classifying identifiable characteristics.

In outdoor spaces, there are a number of ways advanced analytics can be used. For example, say a student has been recently expelled for exhibiting erratic behavior. Using facial recognition, school officials can set an alert to be notified if the student sets foot on campus again. Similarly, license plate recognition can scan parking lots to search for persons of interest entering the premises. Implementing video surveillance that spans outdoor areas expands the ability of security officials to be alerted to potential threats in a campus environment.

Panoramic Technology

In general, video cameras provide a valuable crime deterrent and deliver situational awareness to officials on an educational campus. When a threat occurs in an outdoor space, it is essential to properly monitor and address the situation in a timely manner, before any danger reaches inside the building. Traditional pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameras are only able to cover limited areas, as they record the video of the scene to which they are pointed. Panoramic technology, however, such as 180- and 360-degree coverage, can pick up the areas that PTZs miss, providing a means to capture a fuller picture, especially of a vast, open area on a campus.

By obtaining maximum coverage with a panoramic view, there is a reduction in the number of cameras required. Larger area coverage with fewer cameras and remote monitoring enables cost efficiency and a heightened understanding of situations and incidents. Panoramic camera video data can also be used to incorporate both AIassisted analysis and video analytics software to better identify potential threats and alert officials to these threats. This is paramount when it comes to mitigating the risks that are present in the outdoor areas of an educational facility.

School security goes far beyond the classrooms and hallways. To achieve a truly comprehensive plan for a campus, officials must also address the surrounding outdoor areas, including playgrounds, sports fields, common areas, pick-up and drop-off areas and much more. Incorporating advancing technology, such as AI and analytics with panoramic video data, can add an extra layer of protection for students, teachers and staff in an effort to keep these facilities thoroughly safe.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2019 issue of Campus Security Today.


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