Universities are vibrant, 24/7 communities – sprawling estates that interconnect as cities within our cities. Every day, thousands of staff and students use campus facilities, trusting that their academic home from home is a safe, secure, and supportive environment for teaching and learning. 

Universities can be complex and varied environments, with several characteristics that make them difficult to protect. This presents logistical challenges for security teams, who need to consider multiple factors such as:

  • Multiple sites (often some distance apart) and entry points
  • Densely populated zones
  • Accessibility for staff, students, and visitors
  • Highly sensitive activity – particularly on campuses with leading research and development facilities

These challenges are magnified by the fact that any actions, processes, and protocols implemented cannot impede day-to-day life. After all, safeguarding staff and student satisfaction is also critical to an institution’s long-term survival.

So how can universities better protect people without compromising their ability to be inclusive and welcoming? As with many things, the answer increasingly lies with technology – capitalising on intelligent solutions to improve safety without compromising efficiency. And the good news for campus security teams? It’s an entirely achievable approach with technology already on site – surveillance command and control systems.

Surveillance that sees more

Today’s open-platform surveillance systems facilitate multiple levels of integration and data management, offering universities more than just a way to monitor cameras. From perimeter security, intruder alarms, fire detection, and access control to analytics, critical access tracking, communications, digital help points, and building management systems, smarter integration of the latest evolution of surveillance systems enable these technologies to be monitored and controlled through one platform.

It’s an operational set-up that presents the possibility of an intelligently connected toolkit that can be used in some exciting ways.

People mapping matters

RFID tags in ID badges for students, staff, and visitors can be easily monitored to provide a complete, real-time overview of who is in specific buildings or has passed through campus zone markers, prompting verification alerts with a live camera feed whenever human movement is detected without an associated ID. The very same setup can also be used to trigger safety features, for example, switching on safety lighting along isolated campus routes when people are detected.

As well as aiding security and promoting a safe environment, this people-mapping capability supports improved emergency response times and procedural efficiency. This can, for instance, enable rapid and comprehensive evacuation in the event of a significant incident.

Technologies such as thermal cameras, virtual perimeters, and integration with third-party persons-of-interest databases can also be used to rapidly detect human presence and identify access authorization or threats to present a clear, uncompromised view of who is on campus.

A clear and unified view of events

No matter how many buildings, campus sites, or halls of residence are being monitored, security teams need to have complete situational awareness of live events as they unfold.

With a unified command and control solution, proactive detection and continued monitoring of events are both streamlined and simplified through collating and mining disparate, real-time data sets and then applying customisable rules and alerts to this information.

Risk factors can be more readily identified and programmed to trigger appropriate responsive workflows based on the university’s own Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). These include:

  • Suspicious items
  • Loitering behaviour
  • Unusual access activity
  • Noise detection (for instance, using software to pinpoint gunfire)

An increasingly common example of this in action is through help points. With terminals across campus integrated through the central system to allow two-way communication between operators and an individual, the use of responsive workflows is very effective.

Workflows can be triggered to activate camera feeds, giving operators a clear view of individuals calling in distress or requiring help. Integrating dynamic mapping also ensures support can be dispatched to an individual’s exact location as quickly as possible.

Providing the right help, right away

When support is required, it is dispatched through the central system – with campus security teams, student aids, or senior staff members able to receive push notifications based on the help required or incident detected. Taking this functionality further, it is feasible for every student and member of staff to have an app on their phone, activated by confirmation of their ID number.

If an unauthorised intruder is detected on campus, a wing of a building is closed for emergency maintenance, or a fire evacuation is ordered at a certain lecture hall, push notifications could supply the relevant people with live information and instructions on what to do next.

As an added measure, the information provided in such notification updates could also be conveyed by automating alerts to visual information points or public address systems located strategically around the university.

Of course, the right help may not be an internal university resource or team member. External agencies such as the police can also be brought into the loop via an open-architecture surveillance command and control platform, using features such as secure evidence sharing, integrated communications, and task allocation. These support efficient collaborative working, which is particularly beneficial in time-pressured scenarios.

Planning out risk, improving the experience

Beyond identifying immediate risk, intelligently integrated systems can also help campus authorities identify future stressors, enabling informed refinement of facilities to improve long-term safety and security standards.

Universities have much to gain by pairing information such as incident and crime locations, footfall analytics, turnstile and escalator usage, lighting trends, and data from building management systems. This enables them to better plan security patrols, improve the flow of people through buildings and campus areas to prevent crowd-related pressure points, and even implement energy efficiency strategies based on the intelligence gained.

Information points, social meeting points, and retail units can even be moved to locations that experience greater footfall, further supporting an improved campus experience.

Making this happen

The IoT has opened up huge possibilities in this respect, unlocking a much wider range of data points and providing the pathway to control systems centrally. Implementing an open-protocol command and control platform to harness this potential is a practical solution currently available to campuses.

To make all this possible, universities need to think differently. Many institutions will already have the individual technologies and systems discussed above – all that’s needed is to bring those valuable data sources together.

And while migrating from analogue to IP devices and systems is a technical stepping stone needed to truly maximise the opportunities ahead, the ‘open’ nature of modern command and control solutions – enabling seamless integration of analogue technology alongside IP solutions – ensures this process can be gradual, with changes implemented in phases to suit both budget and strategy.

Universities have a prime opportunity to pioneer the convergence of technologies and systems to usher in a safer, smarter future – both in their own right and as part of broader Smart City strategies.