Indoor Positioning Tech Enhances Campus Security with 3D View

Indoor Positioning Tech Enhances Campus Security with 3D View

Texas A&M University-San Antonio (A&M-SA) is a rapidly expanding campus, with residential facilities and on campus businesses. With the ever-present risks of crises and emergency situations on university campuses, the A&MSA Police Department began looking for ways to increase efficiency when it came to campus security. They landed on a advanced technology solution that has never before implemented on a campus: indoor positioning technology.

From the start of last semester, the police department at A&M-SA began using the indoor positioning technology, which worked through the use of Bluetooth beacons installed throughout the campus’ buildings and open spaces.

The technology is used to help pinpoint emergencies so that police can respond in a timely manner, eliminating unnecessary incidents. Instead of receiving an alert about a disturbance in the student union building, the A&M-SA police are now given specifics on a potential incident and its location, such as, “on the fourth floor, west wing, outside room 410.”

“With indoor positioning and SafeZone, we’re able to provide a faster response time, whether it is a medical emergency or an active shooter,” says Roger Stearns, A&MSA’s assistant chief of police.

A Broader Solution

A&M-SA is not alone in adopting the system from CriticalArc. A number of universities in the U.S. and overseas have recently gone down the same route, but A&M-SA is the first university to deploy it campus-wide instead of targeting it at specific, higher risk locations.

This indoor positioning capability is one feature of a much broader solution, CriticalArc’s SafeZone, which includes functions for geo-fencing, targeted direct communications with individual users, groups in multiple locations, lone worker tracking and protection, emergency management tools and situational awareness capability. In short, the system has the sort of control-room functionality usually only associated with more complex Physical Security Information Management (PSIM) systems.

Older style safety systems can give users geographic positioning system (GPS) coordinates, but for any building with more than a single floor this only offers a limited view. By contrast, CriticalArc’s new generation three-dimensional capability is adding a whole new level of functionality.

There is a big difference between seeing activity on your site approximated as a flat, two-dimensional graphic than seeing it accurately realized in 3D, and that has many people interested. At A&M-SA, Stearns says there are multiple benefits to using the SafeZone system. It enables his officers to pinpoint precisely where any problem is occurring. It helps officers deliver a more targeted response, more quickly and whatever the incident. “We no longer have to check multiple floors to make sure that we were in the right location if were responding to an incident,” Stearns said.

Interestingly, Stearns does not discount using traditional fixed help points—they can be important for visitors who are new to a location or who don’t have a phone with them, but indoor positioning has major advantages, he says.

The most important being that, for relatively low cost, ‘help point’ style protection and care can now be extended across all areas of the campus. When an individual triggers a call for assistance using the system’s app on their phone, officers in the control room can see exactly where that person is, right down to which floor they are on and which room they are in.

They can communicate with that individual directly, and silently if necessary, and they can share information, alerts and warnings with other individuals and groups in specific locations across the campus. The police department’s new ability to visualize with total accuracy is transforming the way his officers work.

“The moment the system went live it was as if the police communications center could accurately view the campus for the first time,” Stearns said. “We live in a 3D world, and suddenly this system was giving us a 3D view of it.”


Setting up the new system was straightforward enough, taking just four days during the 2018 summer break. Jason Goodrich, Customer Success Manager at CriticalArc explains the process.

“Indoor positioning is enabled through a series of Bluetooth beacons,” Goodrich said. “These beacons are wireless—with lithium batteries giving a minimum five years’ operation— so there’s practically no disruption.”

On average, one beacon is needed for every 1,000 square feet, assuming that it’s a relatively open area with not too many obstacles. For higher accuracy, or where the signal path is obstructed (concrete structures and shelves full of books can both affect it) beacons are placed closer together.

For 3D building coverage, dedicated beacons are simply installed on each floor.

“Typically, we’d expect to complete a three- or four-story building in one day,” Goodrich said. “We design an initial layout based on the building plans. It’s then easy for the installing team to test the system for signal strength and to make modifications on site as the job progresses.”

Although A&M-SA is the first university to have opted for total site coverage, including all buildings and external areas, others have deployed it for specific locations such as laboratories and libraries – choosing these because students and staff frequently work alone there out of hours or, in the case of laboratories, because its where higher risk activities are sometimes undertaken.

Efficiency and Accuracy

With users in over 80 countries says Goodrich, SafeZone is helping global police and security teams reduce criminality, deal with medical emergencies and improve customer service day-to-day.

In two recently reported cases affecting students travelling overseas, it has helped to provide life-saving support; one case during a terrorist attack (Strasbourg, France) and in another during a dangerous flood (southern India). In these and similar incidents the university control rooms hundreds or even thousands of miles away, have been able to extend protection by ‘geo-fencing’ the affected area and treating it almost as an extension of their campus, at least in terms of communication and advice.

Away from the headlines, indoor positioning— and the wider SafeZone system—is letting team managers analyze officer activity patterns and coordinate resources, seeing exactly how team members are deployed, minute by minute.


A&M-SA participates in the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program and, following best practice, it calls on its volunteer responders to help with evacuations, heading to the perimeter of any affected area and helping secure it while officers are dealing with the incident. The SafeZone solution, with all its functions, has energized this arrangement.

“The number of volunteers varies by building size,” Stearns said. “But generally speaking, we can expect three to four volunteers per building to primarily assist with building evacuation and perimeter control during a drill or incident.”

The indoor-positioning system allows control room officers to see exactly where each team member is—police officers and volunteers—in relation to one another and to anyone calling for assistance. Those with specialist medical training, or particular emergency skills, are tagged on the system, allowing incident controllers to see the locations of the most appropriate responders.

Any person who is checked-in with the system (which in the case of A&M-SA will automatically include all responders) can be tracked as they move through any building, floor-by-floor.

Officers on patrol can see the alerts too, and they can see who’s nearest to any situation that needs assistance. This has helped to streamline teamwork further. In one recent incident, Stearns reports, the best responder reached a room to deal with a medical emergency even before the dispatch operator had passed on additional details. Stearns says that the tech is also providing more opportunities to rehearse coordinated response during drills.

Stearns is pleased with the way the technology has been adopted and accepted by his team. SafeZone is used on a daily basis and is viewed as critical tool for his team to serve the A&M-SA community.

“It’s a great system,” Stearns said. “Every bit as good as I’d hoped.”

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2019 issue of Campus Security Today.


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