Technology Trends to Safeguard Your Campus

Technology Trends to Safeguard Your Campus

Consider your systems working together as an interoperable enterprise

Not all campus environments are created equal and neither are the threats they face. The first step is to assess risks by working with trusted partners to identify and prioritize the dangers. Then you can determine the most viable solutions to fit your budget and address your concerns.

Think of your fire, life safety and security systems working together as a cohesive, interoperable enterprise protective system, combining tried- and -true methods with newer innovations to focus prevention- reducing techniques on the primary areas of risk on campus. These areas may include open areas, stadiums and public events centers, offices, classrooms, libraries, dormitories and laboratories.

Reported Campus Crimes

A 2016 study from the National Center for Education Statistics reported an annual average of 28,400 criminal incidents on college campuses across the United States and an additional 1.4 million crimes reported at elementary and secondary public schools that same year. An FBI study examining active shooter incidents occurring between 2000 and 2013 concluded that active shooter events can happen anywhere at any time, with the two greatest at-risk industries being places of business and educational institutions.

The increasing frequency and, at times, lethality of on-campus crime requires campus administrators to consider a multi-faceted risk management strategy as a part of their overall security plan. Security technologies can be the cornerstone of a successful program that includes, among other considerations, gunshot detection, enhancement by intelligent video systems, mass notification and mobile alerts.

Gunshot Detection Systems (GDS) were first developed for police departments in the early 1990s, adapted by the U.S. military to detect snipers, and are now available commercially. They use optical, acoustic, gun blast and infrared sensors to detect and classify the unique characteristics of gunshots. Key to the technology are multiple sensors to triangulate the locations of gunshots, with proper conditions, often pinpointing them to within a 10-foot distance of the system. In localized areas such as a classroom, the individual sensors can work much like a smoke detector to identify a specific room where a gunshot has occurred.

Specific Applications

Gunshot systems vary depending on requirements needed for specific applications. There are stand-alone systems, wired and wireless, and Distributed Sensor Arrays (DSA).

Stand-alone systems use local, and even single microphone arrays, to help protect small, open spaces such as parks or parking lots. These can offer immediate detection of a shooter in the vicinity.

DSA systems are the standard for public safety because they use readings from multiple sensors to triangulate the location of shots fired. DSAs are best suited to help protect critical infrastructure, transportation hubs and campuses.

Shot-detection alerts can be sent to police, third-party monitoring services, or in-house security operations centers. The alerts may also be integrated into both the access control and video management systems to quickly assess the severity of the event, notify building occupants and initiate an appropriate response from first responders.

Video management systems leverage digital cameras with high resolution, and low light power to help keep eyes on the situation, no matter the circumstances. This transforms your video into actionable intelligence. The addition of video analytics using artificial intelligence or deep learning can help identify objects, behavior or people of interest quickly across a large volume of video data. Additionally, video systems can be used for crowd management, traffic control and student movement optimization.

Conforming to the Clery Act

Mass notification systems offer a platform to virtually, instantaneously deliver information to a group of people via email, text message or reverse 911-calling mechanisms. In fact, federal regulations, such as the Clery Act, already require colleges and universities benefiting from federal financial aid programs to help provide “timely warnings” of certain crimes. Since 95 percent of students on campus have access to a smartphone, it is important to lean on mobile access when configuring an integrated mass notification system.

Push notifications and texts can assist with the effective distribution of widespread emergency notifications, while intrusive alerts and one-way voice communication can help to alert to a threat on campus, including severe weather events or crimes in progress.

Fire alarm and fire sprinkler systems are central to any campus risk management program to help save lives and reduce property damage. This includes everything from monitored fire, smoke and carbon monoxide alarm systems to fire sprinkler systems, coupled with evacuation plans, smoke detectors and emergency lighting.

The most effective systems are those that employ both active and passive elements. Active fire protection or prevention systems are those that work to eliminate or remove smoke and flame, such as sprinklers and smoke control systems. Passive elements are materials that can help stop a fire from spreading, such as fireproof walls and smoke curtains.

A Comprehensive Look

Installing a fire sprinkler, fire suppression or smoke control system should include a comprehensive look at the building itself, how it will be used, how many occupants it will have and its overall layout.

According to The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), during the five-year period from 2011 to 2015, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 4,100 structure fires in facilities that included dorms, fraternities and sororities.

Confirming that fire sprinklers can help to save lives, a survey by the National Fire Incident Reporting Systems (NFIRS) shows the death rate per 1,000 reported fires was 81 percent lower in properties with fire sprinklers than those without.

Libraries or other rooms housing bookshelves, exhibits or display materials also warrant special attention because they can be easily damaged by smoke, soot or water. Optical smoke imaging detection systems are great solutions for libraries and other large, open spaces.

Laboratories also may require special hazard protection aimed at trying to stop the spread of flames and smoke and helping put out, reduce, or remove flames or smoke already in the building.

Bi-Directional Amplifiers (BDA)/Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) help firefighters, EMS and police who rely on two-way radios for life-saving communications every day. Only recently did The International Building Code begin requiring systems that can boost radio signals in certain buildings to help make sure first responders’ portable radios work correctly. Concrete or metal construction, larger buildings, underground structures or those using low e-glass negatively impact the signal strength needed for reliable communications by first responders.

The most effective solution is the installation of a signal booster or BDA along with a DAS, which must include supervisory signal monitoring by the building’s fire alarm system. Often, these systems carry different names, which can create confusion, but are generally referred to as Emergency Radio Communication Enhancement Systems (ERCES).

Timeline Requirements

Some AHJs have well-written requirements regarding timelines for RF site surveys and compliance, but others may not be familiar with the requirements. NFPA 1221 is the standard for the Installation, Maintenance, and Use of Emergency Services Communications Systems and contains the requirements for these crucial systems. Select a technology and service partner that has taken the time to understand the various code requirements and has factory-trained and certified installation and service technicians.

Access control systems are becoming more streamlined and sophisticated to help minimize the risk of unauthorized access to physical and logical systems. While a wide variety of systems exists, smartphones have become more prevalent and are increasingly used in access-control applications as well. Give special attention to updating older access-control system technologies to address the many known vulnerabilities that exist with proximity cards.

Silent panic alarms, hold-up alarm buttons or pendants are proven security devices that can quickly notify law enforcement in emergency situations. Some states are requiring, with other states considering, that schools should have at least one panic alarm available for school emergencies. Hold-up or panic alarms must have a direct connection to local law enforcement to send an immediate signal to first responders once activated.

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2019 issue of Campus Security Today.


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