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Making The Campus Safer with a Unified Security Approach

Author: David Marr, President and General Manager of Blackboard Transact

Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

Date: 2013-01-05
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Every Thursday, members from the Albany State University (Georgia) Police Department meets with members of the college’s IT staff to discuss ways to leverage technology in order to improve campus safety. The weekly meeting is an example of the university’s new approach to campus security, what is referred to as a unified model.

A unified, or integrated, security model is best described as a set of policies and procedures that have the endorsement and input of various departments on campuses. Components of this approach include annual security staff training, equipment assessments, record-keeping audits, and centralized communication between different groups, which can reduce risk, limit liability, and help maintain business continuity across an institution.

Since implementing many of these strategies, Albany State University has become one of the safest campuses in the Georgia State University system.


Campus Police dispatch center at Albany State University (GA).
Photo via Blackboard Transact


As the president of Blackboard Transact, I often speak with safety officials on campuses about how they can improve their approaches to reduce campus safety risks and institution liability, a high priority for universities in light of high-profile security issues on college campuses in recent years. While a unified approach takes commitment, time and resources, the end result could help save lives.

 

In Practice

According to some new research from TheBestColleges.org, about 20 percent of higher education institutions may not be ready to respond to or mitigate their next campus disaster, a number that is simply much too high.

In a unified security approach, campus security teams must not only have emergency response plans in place, but also have experience practicing what to do if the unthinkable occurs.  Over 78 percent of respondents to the survey said their campus conducts trainings and exercises on campus to raise awareness about emergency management plans. Albany State holds mock campus security drills twice a year to prepare staff for emergency situations. Faculty and students help the cause by role playing, and outside evaluators observe the trainings and offer suggestions on how to improve.

Equipment assessments, like the one Albany State Police Department officials performed after a string of dormitory break-ins, are another aspect of this model that helps ensure a secure campus. Following the assessment, department officials decided to increase the college’s surveillance system by more than 350 percent to keep watch over dormitories and academic buildings. Since then, the cameras have proven to be a big help to security personnel in resolving thefts and determining blame in fights.

“The new camera system has changed the way policing is done on campus,” says Albany State Police Department Chief John Fields Jr. “The 280 cameras on our campus serve as a major deterrent for potential crimes on campus as we continue to witness troubling issues in schools around the world.”

The equipment assessment also revealed another area for improvement: Albany State was using an access control system that was not integrated with its campus ID card. This allowed students to enter buildings without encountering any security and prop dormitory doors open for non-students to enter.

IT staff addressed the issue through an integrated communications system that configured the emergency doors in residence halls to send alerts to the phones of campus police, security officers, and residence hall directors, when they are opened. This enables instantaneous sharing of information and resources between teams if there is a security issue.

Albany State also built a state-of-the-art unified command center to serve as a central location to monitor surveillance cameras, manage door access and alarms and communicate between all groups. The center enables personnel to track multiple safety systems from a single screen, making it easier to spot and react to security incidents in real time.

Albany State’s campus security team is now able to view virtually any location on campus with sophisticated image zooming, frame-by-frame playback and a customizable screen layout, all from a central surveillance location with 12 monitors. And with an open-architecture solution, campus security can support additional cameras with unlimited scalability as their campus grows.

Another component of a unified security approach is establishing a campus safety panel tasked with developing policies and procedures. To be most effective, this task force should include representatives from all campus departments along with local law enforcement, and rotate members into the panel to make sure everyone stays engaged. Albany State’s campus safety panel is made of members of the IT staff, residence department and police department, and oversees the university’s access control system infrastructure to remain up-to-date on any suspicious behavior.

 

Challenges

Building and maintaining a unified campus security system isn’t easy. Achieving visibility of the security systems among students, faculty and staff, having dedicated resources that diligently use the technologies, maintaining continuous operations and the need for annual reassessments, are just a few. Not to mention the costs associated—over 43 percent of respondents to TheBestColleges.org's survey said they don’t have the resources to implement and maintain a comprehensive emergency management system.

Even though a unified approach to security is a big investment for any institution, there are ways to lessen the challenges. The main being a partnership with one vendor to help set up and maintain the system, as Albany State did. A single vendor that is able to centrally manage and maintain all aspects of the security platform can help ensure consistency and effectiveness, rather than have disparate companies and teams in the mix.

While Albany State’s campus security is stronger than ever, officials hope their campus will continue to get safer - Chief Fields hopes to add personnel to supplement the 19 university police officers currently on staff. For now, though, the integrated approach to security is paying off with reduced risk to safety and institution liability, not to mention reassured parents who know their children are on a safe campus.

 

As President and General Manager of Blackboard Transact, David Marr leads Blackboard’s commerce, security management and notification platforms. These Transact platforms provide a comprehensive and secure enterprise-class software and hardware solution that can also integrate with Blackboard’s enterprise e-Learning application. The Transact solutions enable institutions to deliver on-campus, off-campus and online commerce, security and notification solutions to students, faculty and staff.  For more information, see http://www.blackboard.com/

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