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How to future-proof your campus security systems in 2022 by Neil Killick, Leader of Strategic Business, EMEA, at Milestone Systems

The past few months have been disruptive, to say the least. None more so than for students, universities, and colleges, with courses suddenly shifting to virtual, freshers week upended, and ongoing uncertainty having a significant impact on student wellbeing. But now ‘normal’ appears to have resumed with many campuses welcoming students back on-site.

With this, comes a new set of challenges for those tasked with ensuring student security and safety. Not only do the old risks of anti-social behaviour and crime need to be mitigated, but campus leaders must also consider infection risk and ongoing public health measures.

With this in mind, I recommend that campus leaders focus on three areas for their security this coming year.

Three ways to boost campus safety
These steps will help your campus security adapt to current student, parent, and public expectations.

1. Audit your existing infrastructure: understand what systems your campus security already uses and what can be repurposed to meet new demands.
Campus security was already going through a transformation pre-Covid. There was more emphasis on streamlined campus experiences. Mobile credentials, for example, were on the rise to promote touchless access control and empower students to access facilities through their everyday devices.

Tools implemented pre-Covid can be repurposed to meet evolving public health measures. Mobile credential and access control system data can tell a security team about occupancy in classrooms and other areas. This can forewarn of areas that are exceeding their safe capacity for social distancing. It can also inform cleaning teams about areas that need additional attention.

2. Look for new opportunities: where existing systems cannot help, what emerging technologies and devices can meet your campus’ unique needs?

In some cases, new technology is needed to meet new safety measures. A host of solutions sprung up thanks to Covid-19 and these include people-counting software, mask detection, thermal cameras, and more. Teams can use these tools to quickly identify if crowds or bottlenecks are forming (and proactively mitigate this) or if people aren’t wearing face coverings, and to lessen the risk of infection.

When considering new solutions, I suggest starting with your goals. It can be easy to fall for tools with a lot of shiny functionality, but these will fail to have an impact if they aren’t aligned with your strategy.

3. Invest in the right foundation: an open video management system (VMS) can provide a unified view of all systems on-site, improve team efficiency through automation, and support a wide range of devices and applications, now and in the future.
Investing in an open VMS platform provides a wealth of benefits, from easier integration with your existing tech stack to greater flexibility and future-proofing. Campus security often consists of many disparate systems that all need to talk to each other to provide the best insights. An open VMS makes this process much simpler, consolidating everything you need into one single point of truth.

Real-time on-the-ground intelligence can inform campus security of dangerous behaviour, unusual events, or crowds forming, enabling them to respond quickly. Occupancy and usage trends can influence staffing, building maintenance, and even building layout (making heavily used pathways wider, for example).

An open platform also enables automation — which can improve team efficiency by reducing manual and repetitive work. For example, when someone enters a classroom, the system could automatically switch on lighting and heating. This will improve energy efficiency and the campus experience. Simultaneously, unusual behaviour or trespassing can be detected via a CCTV system and automatically flagged for the security team to instantly review and respond.

Open in action: Sheffield Hallam University
Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) is the 11th largest university in the UK with around 31,000 students based in two campuses across Sheffield: one in the city centre and another 1.5 miles away in southwest Sheffield.

SHU has a very busy security control room that covers the campuses as well as other university facilities in student accommodation, disabled refuge units, offices, and more. Security is paramount to SHU and the security team requires complete visibility over its many students, staff members, and visitors. This wasn’t possible on SHU’s old analogue CCTV system, so it looked to upgrade to a newer Internet Protocol (IP) system that could send and receive data over SHU’s extensive network.

What SHU needed
SHU needed a simple way to consolidate the many signals coming into its control room including alarms, video cameras, emergency assistance alerts, intercoms, and fire alerts. It also needed a system that could scale and adapt as its needs changed, if, for example, SHU wished to add additional facilities or explore new devices and functionality. Simultaneously, SHU wanted a system that could work with its existing Axis cameras, while also moving away from a vendor-driven hardware option to a more flexible software-driven one. This would enable the team to run certain services in-house and take advantage of the educational discounts that SHU receives.

Investing in open
This led SHU to Milestone XProtect, an open platform that enabled SHU to consolidate its different systems into one intuitive interface. The team increased its cameras and devices from 300 to 500 cameras (with plans to increase this further). The open system works with SHU’s existing hardware, applications, and fibre network. Additionally, it gives SHU much greater flexibility and freedom to test new integrations and concepts.

One such integration is an LPR (license plate recognition) module that has automated a barrier along a SHU service road. Recognized vehicles are now automatically granted access, which stops constant interruptions throughout the day for operators, freeing them to focus on other tasks. Further integrations that are being explored are integrations with access control, alarming buildings, and heat mapping. SHU also has a development system to test new integrations and concepts, before rolling them out across campus.

Other benefits
Further benefits include time savings and team efficiencies, as well as emerging maintenance savings and increased performance. XProtect is also more scalable, with 12 network recorders reduced to just two with the new platform.

Looking ahead
Author Jay Samit once said, “Disruption isn't about what happens to you, it's about how you respond to what happens to you.” Campus leaders have an unparalleled opportunity to carve a new path from the disruption of 2020 and 2021. The technology that you deploy today will add value to the campus experience well into the future. By investing in the right solutions, your campus will emerge as a more streamlined, safe, and secure place for your people.

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