A Roadmap to Effective Campus Surveillance

Selecting the right surveillance solution for predefined zones of protection

Whether working on a corporate or education campus, the video surveillance solution required to best protect it will vary vastly depending on location, application and specific security needs. Yet there are ways to segment a campus environment based on specific zones of protection to aid in the selection of the most suitable surveillance equipment for each area.

After all, custom configured products, costly software licensing fees and video analytics tools are not necessary for every zone. By evaluating and understanding these zones of protection and identifying the specific video security requirements for each zone, security teams can optimize their resources and surveillance coverage to achieve optimal results.

Understanding the Zones of Protection
It helps to visualize a campus environment much like a fortress where penetration becomes increasingly difficult moving from the perimeter towards the center. This is intentional, as the most valuable assets are typically located furthest from the perimeter and entry points. As such, the video security measures deployed at each level serve different functions based on varying priorities.

The ultimate goal is detecting and mitigating potential threats at various levels or zones of protection. Using a multi-layered approach, let's explore six critical zones of protection and supporting surveillance technology most appropriate for each.

It is important to note that there is no blueprint for selecting the best solutions for each zone of protection on a campus. The following highlights select video surveillance technologies and products that are increasingly prevalent in large campus system deployments for consideration when evaluating your system needs.

To keep things simple, this article divides the campus into three basic zones: the perimeter, general grounds and interior locations. However, when designing a campus wide surveillance solution, it is advisable to subdivide these three primary zones into multiple sub-layers on a facility or building by building basis to address the specific challenges and needs of each location.

Zone 1: The Perimeter
Perimeter Intrusion Detection (PID) is available in many form factors ranging from simple fences to radar and advanced sensors, but video surveillance remains a mainstay technology for mainstream physical security applications. A critical layer of defense for campus safety, here are three video solutions that offer robust and comprehensive perimeter protection.

AI classification tools. There are a number of highly advanced AI tools now embedded in IP cameras that automatically identify humans and vehicles from animals and/or objects that may be lurking beyond the perimeter of a campus and trigger specific alarms or events.

For example, a guard house can be outfitted with an AI embedded camera that automatically sounds an alarm if a car or human approaches the entrance of a campus during off hours. Once detected, an alarm can be sounded to alert security personnel in a remote security operations center (SOC) of a potential intrusion, sound an audible alarm or strobe light at the site of the event, or initiate some other predetermined action. To help eliminate false alarms, the AI cameras can be masked to limit their detection range to include only very specific areas of interest not impacted by nearby roads, bicycle paths or other areas prone to high traffic.

Deploying AI embedded cameras with intelligence at the edge provides significant cost savings in large systems versus system wide analytics by allowing users to deploy analytics on an as needed basis.

Night vision. The ability to detect and view images clearly in the dark is critical to perimeter security. This can be accomplished in several ways without the need for expensive exterior lighting that is limited in range. One such solution is Lightmaster technology, an advanced chipset-based solution that sees into virtual darkness over long distances without supplemental sources of illumination or the artifacts created by traditional IR lighting. This is critical for analytics to perform properly at night when the threat potential is typically higher than during daylight hours.

Long-range imaging. Esteemed for their competency for long-range surveillance, bullet cameras with 12X electronic zoom and 4K resolution are a preferred camera configuration for perimeter applications like remote parking lot surveillance. Their electronic zoom capabilities deliver long range image capture capabilities with great detail.

The extended field of view, combined with AI embedded features and night vision capabilities, can autonomously alert security personnel of impending threats 24/7, while facilitating deterrence, video audits, and enhanced data for forensic investigations. It is also important to select outdoor imaging devices that are IP66 rated to protect them from water and dust, as well as IK10 rated for impact resistance.

License plate recognition (LPR). Cameras with embedded LPR technology enhance both security and access control, ensuring that all vehicles are documented with the appropriate levels of access. For example, LPR cameras can detect authorized vehicles and open motorized gates automatically at campus entrances, and employee or faculty parking areas. LPR can also be used to detect known offenders or ex-employees, and alert security of their presence.

The latest generation LPR cameras capture precise details of vehicle plate data and color, along with embedded AI features enabling enhanced vehicle detection and classification to help eliminate false alarms. LPR data is also critical for forensic investigations by allowing security personnel to search video archives to track all activity of a vehicle over time on campus grounds.

Video intercoms. New video intercom solutions provide the dual function of enabling two-way audio, close area surveillance and access control. Unlike consumer intercom products commonly found in residential settings, professional video intercoms can be integrated with various other security and communications systems such as access control and IP phone systems. Paired with other imaging technologies like LPR, the video intercom can be strategically placed to view a drivers face and speak to an individual, while capturing their license plate information. This effectively eliminates the need to station a guard at an external guard house, effectively lowering operations costs.

Zone 2: Grounds Surveillance
Corporate and educational campuses can be expansive with a wide range of outdoor amenities ranging from ballfields and outdoor entertainment spaces to gardens and utilities. The combination of outdoor physical features from the perimeter of a campus to building entrances varies from one location to the next.

As a result, there are several viable imaging technologies and camera configurations that can be combined to provide the highest levels of security and cost-efficiency.

Intelligence at the edge. AI embedded cameras provide a high degree of versatility and efficiency with the ability to deploy the specific features best suited to each individual camera location. With the proliferation of AI embedded technology, users now also have a wide selection of camera form factors that employ new and powerful feature sets. The most prevalent AI embedded camera form factors for general surveillance are available in turret, dome and PTZ configurations.

Wide area surveillance. New Fisheye and multi-sensor cameras provide exceptional wide area surveillance with up to 360° coverage ideal for traffic intersections and parking lots, vastly reducing the number of cameras that would otherwise be required for comprehensive surveillance of the area. New fisheye cameras, for example, provide new levels of imaging performance and clarity that make them extremely cost-effective, while their more expensive counterparts, multi-sensor cameras, provide the ability to electronically zoom in on events of interest for each individual sensor. And these cameras also are available with AI intelligence at the edge further adding to their utility for a wide range of campus surveillance applications.

Two-way audio. Empowering security personnel with a direct means of communication, surveillance cameras with two-way audio enable real-time interaction with individuals who may be in need of assistance or directions, and to confront individuals with ill intent. Video with two-way audio enhances security and access management, enforcing verification procedures and heightening security services with a positive user experience. These versatile cameras can also be integrated with automated alarms to sound pre-recorded audio messages with real-time warnings and notifications when manned personnel aren’t available, delivering an added level of protection.

Image tracking. The physical makeup of a campus will greatly determine which camera configurations are most appropriate to provide the highest levels of situational awareness. Perhaps the most popular choice being PTZ cameras that provide operators with real-time manual camera tracking control, as well as the ability to program automated patrols.

To maintain widespread awareness while tracking a specific vehicle or individual, some PTZs feature the capability to maintain the larger image scene while zooming in specific potential suspects and precise details. There is a wide range of intelligent AI-embedded PTZ cameras available today, providing users with a wide range of solutions to address virtually any general surveillance application.

Loitering detection/trip detection. AI cameras have ability to detect and differentiate humans from other objects is critical in providing loitering detection, which can be as innocent as a group of students sitting on a lawn, or an individual stalking an ATM machine. Similarly, trip detection can sound an alert if an individual violates a preset area within a scene. For example, to prevent people from entering public fountains, utility areas, or construction areas. The ability to autonomously monitor areas of interest with defined rules provides security personnel with a highly effective and efficient security tool.

Zone 3: Interior Locations/System Management
There are some surveillance imaging challenges that are typical across all facility interiors covering a broad range of topics ranging from lighting conditions to aesthetics, system management and control, and of course budget. Conducting a thorough site survey and needs analysis is critical to help determine what you need and where you need it most. In any event, here are a few critical technology considerations to consider.

Changing lighting conditions. In environments subject to changing lighting conditions, such as lobbies and public spaces with large windows, the combination of artificial lighting and varying degrees of natural light can render many imaging devices useless during specific times of the day. Cameras with Wide Dynamic Range (WDR) automatically compensate for changing lighting conditions including bright sunlight, shadowed areas. Balancing exposure levels, WDR ensures clear and detailed image capture, regardless of the lighting challenges present in common areas. WDR maintains finer details and improves the discernment of crucial features and shapes.

Maximizing area coverage. Wide area coverage is as important to monitoring interior campus spaces as it is for open exterior areas of interest. Common areas like lobbies, break rooms, study halls and libraries and cafeterias often require multiple cameras to ensure comprehensive coverage in these typically high traffic areas. Here is where high performance fisheye cameras really shine, providing an extremely effective means of enhancing security using fewer cameras, which results in lower overall product and installation costs.

Another often overlooked advantage is that these devices present fewer points for equipment failure given the simplicity of their single sensor design versus using multiple cameras or even a single, typically more expensive, multi-sensor camera. A true win-win for users and servicing dealers alike.

Scalable system integration. Today’s VMS platforms offer powerful features and capabilities, making them difficult to differentiate on a feature-by-feature basis. Three specific VMS comparison criteria you should look for include scalability, health checking (video assurance) and annual licensing fees, which directly impact total cost of ownership. An additional feature to look for is the ability to easily configure viewing options such as a video wall, which can deliver additional cost savings and better operator experience.

Redundant recording. It is critical to have assurance that all of the video and data being captured by your video surveillance system is available for forensic review and evidence. Systems employing distributed architecture where NVRs/servers with failover recording strategically located at various physical locations across a campus ensure that your video footage is being recorded. An additional safeguard is to deploy cameras with on-board recording that triggers if/when the primary recorders are offline for any reason.

Advanced cameras with intelligence at the edge will then automatically download the recorded back-up once connection to the primary recorders is re-established. Failover, failsafe recoding should be high on your list of system imperative to ensure you always have access to the video data you need when you need it.

Protecting today’s corporate and educational campuses is a challenge with new and emerging threats to people, property and assets. Having the right technologies in place can make all the difference in ensuring campus wide security and safety across every zone of protection.

This article originally appeared in the May / June 2024 issue of Campus Security Today.


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