Institutions of higher education are often large footprints within the communities in which they are located. As such, they provide significant economic support, as well as a population base for the local community and surrounding area. This high-profile community presence also is attractive to those who wish to do harm to our community. Institutions of higher education have often been viewed as soft target locations by terrorists and are also locations that provide quick public access to multiple victims by those who want media attention. Any critical incident or other major event that occurs at these institutions will have potential impacts on the local economy and the overall community. In order to mitigate this potential threat to our institutions we must not only begin to employ technology, but also integrate this technology to provide us with proper situational awareness and the ability to neutralize the threats.
An integrated system provides this comprehensive approach. Systems can support integration with a standard integration platform, flexibility, scalability, advanced controllability, and sophisticated monitoring, measurement, verification and versatile reporting. Integrated systems also provide standardized structure or interoperability among the various departments and disciplines on campus giving a common operating picture to all departments. An integrated system can include the following primary subsystems:
- Electronic Door Access/Access Control (EDA)
- Digital Video Monitoring/Surveillance (DVM)
- Emergency Alerts/Mass Notifications
- Mobile safety apps
- Virtual Emergency Operations Centers
- Cyber Security
Electronic Door Access/Access Control (EDA)
This subsystem allows for remote automated access provisioning with time and date restrictions; records of when the door is used and by whom; forced doors; propped door alarms; customized reporting and auditing features; and industry standard security protocols.
Digital Video Monitoring/Surveillance (DVM)
This subsystem can integrate new and legacy surveillance monitoring platforms for live viewing, playback and advanced video analytics, and permits observation of critical processes for informed operational and safety decisions. This asset will assist with investigations and tracking security related incidents, along with providing appropriate information to space managers. Additionally, the system is capable of granting specific surveillance to departments as needed. Special measures can be in place to compress the usage of bandwidth that the video will occupy on the network.
Emergency Alerts/Mass Notifications
This subsystem can provide the mouthpiece of the emergency alert network. It can efficiently and accurately contact the University population in the event of an emergency. For fast and flexible response, this system integrates existing resources both inside (intercom, video screens, fire systems, personal computers, telephones, and LED signage), outside (loudspeakers, digital displays, sirens, and broadcast radio/TV), and personal devices (cellphones, SMS messaging, email, hand-held radios, and mobile safety applications). It not only can send out a message, but checks for confirmation. Messages can be pre-scripted for immediate response or could be tailored for the specific incident.
Emergency alerts also include incoming fire alarms, intrusion alarms, and duress alarms into the campus Operations Center.
Mobile Safety Applications
These mobile apps are personal safety portals that send users important safety alerts and provide instant access to campus safety resources. Many apps include the following features:
- Safety alerts and notifications: Receive instant notifications and instructions when on-campus emergencies occur.
- Blue Light function: gives the user’s location and voice communication instantly in an emergency.
- Send friends your location
- Interactive Campus Maps
- Report a Hazard: anonymously reports any campus safety hazards.
- Campus safety resources and emergency plans.
- Complementary wearable “panic buttons”
Virtual Emergency Management Systems
These platforms are designed to plan and execute emergency plans, task responders with assignments, and share information in real time with multiple departments during emergencies and day-to-day operations. Easily accessible from the web, smartphone, tablet, or other device, these platforms are designed to be intuitive with the ability to scale to a large number of seats. These virtual platforms can be expanded in daily operational events such as fire alarms, duress alarms, intrusion alarms and building automation. The simplicity and versatility of these platforms are a great asset to any campus.
Cyber-attacks are becoming more of a concern for institutions of higher education, not just in terms of espionage and loss of proprietary information, but also with intrusion into safety and security systems, as well as employee and student records. An institution has to ensure the security of their systems. These security measures include establishing redundant capabilities and safeguarding employee and student personal information, emails systems, business essential documents and proprietary information. These systems should be stored in secure, protected environments to prevent unauthorized access. With the proliferation of ransomware attacks on universities across the world, having a focused cybersecurity program will aid in protecting against the possibility of these types of risks to the institution. However, institutions often overlook this threat within their public safety scope. The mitigation is typically left to information technology specialists within the institution that are housed outside of the public safety department. This separation prevents the organization’s public safety entity from addressing the concerns and integrating the issues into a comprehensive risk management plan, which may lead to a systematic failure.
A Resilient Campus
If the public safety technologies, such as video surveillance, building alarms/automation, and access systems are separate stand-alone systems with ridged departmental boundaries instituted by the institution’s leadership, then they are often doomed because they are competing for the same time, resources, and objectives of that particular department. However, if they are integrated within a comprehensive risk management and public safety program, they can share overall objectives and merge shared concepts into a seamless plan which takes into account the five mission areas of emergency management which are: prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery.
The benefits of integrating technologies are that it results in the building of community resilience and reduces the community’s vulnerability to disasters. This further allows the organization to define mission critical functions, various communication methods, and redundant systems and locations in preparation for an incident. Integration further allows for an organization to look beyond the response and recovery phases and focus on tools of prevention and mitigation. These prevention and mitigation tools assist in building a resilient community and allows an organization’s leadership to strategically think about potential risk and whether to accept the risk, transfer the risk, or simply avoid the risk using basic risk management techniques.
Achieving the goal of increased safety and security of electronic data and all aspects of an institution takes more than a bundle of stand-alone products. It takes a package that’s architected of integrated solutions designed to work well together that administrators can manage expeditiously as a whole, not individually. It’s nearly impossible to maintain strong safety and security hygiene or establish best practices when the institution is relying on a constellation of independent systems.
Associate Vice President/Chief of Police
University of North Dakota