A rash of deadly shootings at college campuses and schools in recent years has placed security in the spotlight. The debate over school violence and how to combat it has typically focused on mental health, training, and gun control. But can security technology play a role?
The mention of "security technology" usually conjures up images of video cameras, intercoms, access control points, mass notification and blue light phones. But according to a recent research report from IHS, the next big thing in campus security won't be any one particular technology. Instead, it will be about merging these various technology pieces together for a comprehensive integrated approach to security management. That's because the emphasis is moving away from security technology mainly as a forensic tool and moving toward improving detection, mitigation and response. At the center of this trend is PSIM (or Physical Security Information Management).
What is PSIM?
PSIM is an interoperable software solution that analyzes and correlates information and alerts from a multitude of security and safety systems in real time, providing rich situational awareness. It ties siloed security systems together in one unified map-based interface, making it easier for security operators to get a real-time view of what's happening, where, with immediate visualization of associated security assets (e.g. cameras, access control points, responders involved).
PSIM's automated adaptive response plans also ensure that stakeholders are following established emergency protocols. Finally, the PSIM solution documents incidents as they're happening for subsequent review. What was the nature of the incident? When and where did it start? What specific actions were taken and by whom? How and when was it resolved?
PSIM's role in campus security
By their very nature campuses and schools are open and accessible. So it's impossible to prevent every threat. Still, PSIM can save time and help campuses and schools better prepare and respond when threats materialize. Here are seven key ways that PSIM can make campuses and schools more secure.
While infrequent, active shooter incidents are catastrophic when they do occur. Situational awareness and response times are critical to saving lives. PSIM gives campus security authorities better awareness of what's happening, where and how to respond.
For example, at the first notification of an active shooter situation via an emergency call or a panic alarm, a security operator can visualize the incident location on a campus map, and automatically pull up the nearest video feeds. Automated response plans embedded in the PSIM system instantly kick into action, initiating a mass notification alert to advise students to shelter in place. Buildings can be automatically locked down from a remote location. Instant lines of communication are opened up with local law enforcement and other authorities. All of this can be done without having to manually dial numbers, or toggle from one system to the next.
The operator is also guided through an on-screen step-by-step response plan, so he or she doesn't have to search through manuals or recall procedures from memory in a high pressure situation. Finally, all stakeholders (security operators, local law enforcement, emergency, field personnel, and other mutual aid agencies) are able to collaborate more effectively, by adhering to the same response plan, and sharing video and other information. Of course, active shooter incidents are just one scenario where PSIM can heighten situational awareness and streamline response.
Most security experts would agree that educational institutions should have disaster plans that specify protocols to follow in specific situations. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) the majority of school districts have such plans -- but far fewer probably ever test them out. Just how prepared are college campuses?
A recent survey revealed that one in four college campuses say they are not prepared to respond to an active shooter situation. This is another area where PSIM can help. A campus security department can use PSIM to simulate an event by running through response plans in a safe, controlled way. This can be done at a simple walk-through level all the way up to more complex scenario staging, and for any type of scenario, from severe weather events to full-blown campus-wide emergencies. This is accomplished by loading the response plan into the PSIM solution, running the drill, and letting the PSIM solution track what happened. The result is a step-by-step audit trail with links to recorded audio communications and video. Security departments can use this capability to refine and perfect disaster plans so they're better prepared when real emergencies happen.
Just like corporations, higher education institutions expand organically over time. Some even grow through new affiliations with other entities, such as teaching hospitals. This means campuses and buildings are often spread across cities and communities. It's not uncommon for these sites to standardize on different physical access control, video, intrusion or fire detection systems. Upgrading these legacy systems "to get everyone on the same page" is expensive and impractical. Integrating them using in house IT resources is technically challenging. PSIM uses gateways to merge incompatible security systems into a single interface that makes the variant underlying technologies totally transparent to the security operator. Universities can unify their security operations no matter how many sites or different types of security systems they have, while saving money on capital investments and operations.
Blue light emergency phones are a common sight on university campuses. About 70 percent of calls coming into campus security operations centers originate from such phones. These phones are usually mounted on poles accompanied by a video camera. For a wider field of view, some installers are now incorporating multiple cameras pointing in different directions, or a single 360-degree camera.
These emergency phones and cameras are a vital source of situational awareness on campuses, even more so when integrated into a PSIM system. The security operator is able to view the exact location of the "blue light phone" caller on a campus map, communicate with that caller, instantly view the video camera or camera feeds (real-time or playback mode), see the closest available resources to dispatch assistance if necessary, and follow guided instructions. All of this is possible, again, without having to toggle from system to system.
Additionally, many universities are part of larger urban settings, which means they can't be fenced off from the outside world. Situations originating on or beyond the campus periphery can easily spill over to the campus environment. For that reason, a university might want to use PSIM to bi-directionally share real-time information with outside agencies. They can also integrate other real-time data feeds, such as early warning information about dangerous weather conditions, fires, hazardous material spills, etc., within a certain campus radius.
Integrated Video Analytics
Video analytics play a role in securing campuses too, even more so when part of a comprehensive PSIM solution that shows operators what's happening where and how to respond. Video analytics can now reliably detect gathering crowds, or loiterers, raising a red flag if a crowd reaches a certain size, or if people loiter in an area for an extended period of time.
Another example where video analytics can be used is to detect parking garage activity after hours or on weekends when facilities are shut down. Imagine the cost of having officers conduct manual security tours of 5 parking garages spread across multiple campuses every few hours.
Enhanced Protected Escort Service
Some campuses now offer cell phone-based protected escort services. If a student does not reach their intended destination in time, then the security operator receives an alarm along with the student's location.
A variation of this service tracks the student (who has requested the escort service) using the student's cell phone MAC address as he or she moves through the campus's Wi-Fi network. This provides a GIS location history of the entire path taken. PSIM can enhance this service by combining real-time alerting, response plans, video recording, analytics and incident reconstruction tools. For example, a university investigator could visually retrace a missing student's path, using video and analytics to piece together what happened.
The Clery Act is the governing regulation that requires institutions of higher education to release campus crime statistics and security policies and give timely warnings of crimes that represent a safety threat to students and employees. PSIM can help universities comply with the Clery Act in a few different ways.
In the event of an imminent safety threat, processes built into the PSIM system guide a security operator to immediately initiate a mass notification to students and campus staff. This task can be automated so the operator doesn't have to toggle from system to system (as in the active shooter example above).
Campuses are also required to report data on specific types of crimes (such as murder/non-negligent manslaughter, negligent manslaughter, sex offenses, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft, arson, hate crimes, and arrests and referrals for drug, liquor law, and weapons law violations). Campus security departments can use PSIM's reporting capabilities to capture logs of reported campus crimes and even go a step beyond to capture details about how such incidents were handled (e.g. by documenting actions taken).
Dr. Bob Banerjee is Senior Director of Training and Development for NICE Systems' Security Division, where he educates, trains and supports NICE's extensive network of security system integrators and dealers, and provides thought leadership for NICE's security industry outreach efforts. Banerjee has also held senior marketing and global product management positions at Bosch Security Systems, Intuitive Systems, OneSource Information Services, Axeda Systems and Nortel Networks. A recognized expert in PSIM, IP video, and other security technologies, "Dr. Bob" has also published numerous articles on a wide range of security topics.