A Layered Approach

Newer technologies help secure higher-education campuses

If you want to see many of the latest security technologies in use, visit a large college or university campus. Campus security officials face many of the same problems as a city police department — only in a more compact setting.

The campus combination of humans and technology seems to be working well. According to a 2019 report from the federal National Center for Education Statistics, crime on post-secondary campuses decreased in every category – except forcible sex offenses and negligent manslaughter – between 2001 and 2016. Over the same period, student populations increased by about 25 percent.

Campus security officials understand the value of a layered approach to security. Multiple integrated systems provide a much higher degree of protection than separate standalone solutions. And campus officials have shown a willingness to incorporate many leading- edge devices. Here’s a look at how some campuses are pioneering new security approaches.

Mobile Credentialing

Access control is a vital technology on any campus. Students need access to dorm rooms, laboratories, athletic facilities and many more locations. Traditional card-key or keypad solutions don’t fit well with a generation that doesn’t like to carry cards or touch commonly shared devices in the COVID-19 era. They do carry their own smartphones, making mobile credentialing an increasingly good fit for a campus access control system.

Mobile credentialing’s convenience, security and cost savings are among the benefits that attract campuses. Students, or staff and faculty, no longer need to remember cards or PINs. As they register for classes, students receive an email inviting them to download an app capable of communicating with readers via a smartphone’s Bluetooth Low Energy communications protocol. Entry attempts go to a cloud database accessed by the system’s controller which accepts or denies the request.

Mobile credentials may be reused, transferred, issued and deactivated – all remotely. Wireless uploads to the app and readers enable new access control features and functions. Credential costs are predictable as campuses pay only for what they use.


Biometrics are another area of technology more commonly being used on higher education campuses. Adding biometric readers at mission-critical doors, such as laboratories using radioactive material, provides a multi-factor identity authentication in conjunction with either plastic or mobile credentials. Again, there’s no need for students to remember an additional credential or passcode.

Iris and facial recognition systems are gaining in popularity as they are contactless, unlike most fingerprint readers. That is an important consideration in light of the current pandemic.

Biometric readers are extensively used in campus dining commons and recreation centers. Students stop at a turnstile, look into the reader for a second and they’re on their way to selecting dinner or working off the calories. The campus saves money by requiring fewer cashiers or attendants to identify students. The readers also eliminate stolen cards or card pass-backs that enable non-paying students to eat for free.

Biometric readers integrate with access control systems to provide a highly accurate audit trail of who entered a facility and when. They also integrate with one-card systems enabling students to make purchases at bookstores and even surrounding neighborhood businesses. Also, biometric systems have a wow factor that acts as a selling point to potential students and their parents during spring college visits.

Gunshot Detection

College and university officials are understandably nervous about guns being fired on campus and immediately want to learn the site of any shots. Gunshot detection technology (GDT) provides a solution. Acoustic sensors placed throughout a campus detect gunshots. Accompanying software then triangulates the sound to accurately pinpoint the location within seconds.

GDT typically integrates with the campus video surveillance system, often providing live video of events surrounding a gunshot area. The video provides campus police or security officers with greater situational awareness as they are dispatched. Campuses may share GDT and video data with surrounding police departments when additional assistance is required.

Mass Communications

Integrating GDT with mass communications systems also enables campus police to warn students, including those on their way to the campus, of a potentially dangerous situation via smartphone text or email messages or via voice using high-powered speaker arrays.

Higher-education campuses pioneered the use of smartphone apps that connect students with security or police officers. Most apps are developed for a specific site and include campus maps and contact information. Many enable students to share smartphone video and audio with officers.

Drones are another valuable tool for learning more about what’s happening on campus. Small, compact drones fitted with video cameras provide live views of remote campus areas that might be difficult for officers to patrol regularly. Drones may check on sites following calls to 911 centers.

During emergencies, drones equipped with speakers may share voice information over small areas. And drones can be used as hotspots providing instant mobile coverage allowing students to receive smartphone text and voice messages.

This is a look at just a few of the systems protecting students and assets on our higher-education campuses. You won’t find mobile credentials, biometric systems, gunshot detection technology, emergency apps and drones at every college and university. However, many institutions have shown a willingness to add newer solutions to their security mix in an effort to create a safer environment.

This article originally appeared in the September October 2020 issue of Campus Security Today.


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