Synergy Takes Campus Security to the Next Level
Advances in Systems Integration Help Close Security Gaps
- By Ryan Gregory
- July 27, 2022
It wasn’t all that long ago that institutions ran their security systems as a la carte solutions. They had a video surveillance system. They had an access control system. They probably had a public address system, as well. But unfortunately, each tended to operate independently, with limited or no communication between each other. That gap in connectivity often hampered the organization’s ability to detect, deter, delay or minimize the impact of bad actors.
Shifting from analog to IP-based technology—moving from proprietary systems to open standards platforms—paved the way for seamless communication between those security systems. This has made it easier for security staff to detect, identify and react to threats more swiftly, as well as contain losses and prevent negative events from escalating. With the advent of reliable, purposeful analytics—both video and audio—the synergy between security systems is becoming even tighter, enabling more informative alerts and more focused responses.
While a great catalyst for action, technology is only part of the equation. Designing a tightly integrated and effective security solution also depends on clearly defining the goals of the project and what kind of data needs to be captured. Equally important, organizations need to institute comprehensive policies and procedures to ensure that the automated flow of information reaches the right decisionmakers so they can initiate an appropriate course of action.
Providing a More Complete Picture of Events
Ultimately, the measure of a secure campus rests on how its systems work together to capture information from multiple devices, synthesize it and deliver it as a coherent picture. For instance, the synergy between video cameras and access control systems creates the opportunity for campus security to visually verify whether the person swiping the keycard is the authorized user. The synergy between video cameras and audio analytics enables campus security to instantly track the source of a gunshot. The synergy between video cameras and loudspeakers gives campus security the ability to spot an intruder and broadcast a verbal warning to the trespasser to vacate the premises.
Security systems manufacturers and application developers have made great strides in recent years to improve the flow of information within individual systems, as well as throughout overarching, integrated security solutions. Systems once viewed solely as forensic, investigative tools are now playing proactive roles in predicting and fending off threats before they’re able to develop.
In this article, we’ll look at the advancing landscape of security technology: how video analytics are changing the face of surveillance, how credentialing tools are changing the face of access control and how intelligent audio is changing the face of public address systems.
Video Surveillance: Focusing on the Most Critical Matters
One of the biggest problems with video surveillance on a large campus is image overload. Statistics have shown that after about 20 minutes of monitoring a video wall, an operator’s attention starts to flag. That’s where video analytics come into play. Intelligently designed, they can be programmed to bring video containing specific activity to the foreground, helping operators to focus on what’s important, while letting video streams with no significant activity remain in the background to avoid distraction or fatigue.
What makes analytics such a valuable augment to video surveillance is the ability to assess a situation in real time and trigger an actionable alert to security. Proactive use cases can vary widely. One of the simpler applications is time-based alerts, only triggering a detection alarm during certain hours of the day when vehicular and pedestrian traffic in the area would be an anomaly. Some more advanced analytics on the market selectively detect and classify objects—differentiating between people, vehicles, animals and things like backpacks and briefcases. Other analytics are designed to recognize colors of clothing, license plates, and faces—even weapons like firearms and crowbars. With the help of artificial intelligence and deep learning, they can even be trained to distinguish certain behaviors like loitering or brawling. But the more sophisticated the analysis, the more complex, costly and time-consuming it becomes to incorporate enough reference data for the algorithm to learn how to produce consistently reliable results.
Analytics offer significant value on the forensic side, as well. They can be employed to save operators countless hours of sifting through video by quickly extracting footage based on certain search criteria such as date and time, when an object disappeared from a scene or when a person of interest traveled from one camera’s field of view to another.
Access Control: Managing a Multitude of Permissions
As the threat from bad actors continues to plague campuses, the need for tighter control over access has never been greater. The challenge has been to devise a safe, yet flexible way to manage the comings and goings of a diverse population.
When they were first introduced to the market, access control systems generally operated as standalone, proprietary solutions installed simply to restrict the flow of people through given entry points. Today’s access control systems, however, are built on open standards that support seamless integration with video surveillance cameras, intercoms, door controllers and audio systems, which gives security staff greater situational awareness and response control. For instance, integrating video cameras and intercoms allows operators to visually survey the scene for potential threats and converse with visitors awaiting entry before deciding whether to unlock a door remotely.
Plugging visitor management software into the security system is also helping campuses customize user access on a more granular level, such as by specific doors, specific days or even specific times of day. Some systems can even read QR codes displayed on smartphones—eliminating the problem of lost fobs and keycards and providing a cost-efficient way to issue temporary access to cleaning staff, contractors, and delivery services.
Another advantage of integrated network security is instantaneous lockdown control. Depending on authorization and the event triggering an alert, security can initiate lockdown of selective doors (or the entire campus) via the access control system. Security can program additional lockdown permissions and overrides into the system, giving campus employees and first responders more control over incidents as they unfold. When lockdown control is integrated with a mass communications system, security can broadcast instructions on what action to take, such as remain in place or vacate the building down a specific stairway or through a particular door. Because, like the doors, the public address system can connect through the network, messages can be aired campus-wide, to a specific speaker or to a group of speakers as needed – which demonstrates the true power of an integrated solution.
Intelligent Audio Systems: Merging Public Address, Intercoms, Phones and Mass Communications
There’s been a decided move towards convergence in this space. Instead of single-use, closed systems like pagers, telephones and intercoms, the industry is integrating all these technologies into a single, intelligent architecture that easily integrates with other security technology and can be shared across the organization.
Operators can use VoIP phone systems to make and receive calls to and from door intercoms, visually screen visitors, and remotely manage door locks. The same telephone system can be used to page individuals through room speakers, broadcast messages across the campus, communicate with emergency responders, air certain tones (like changing-of-the-hour bells or evacuation sirens) or pipe in background music to specific areas of the campus. Like with the access control system, operators can initiate these activities on the fly or pre-program them to occur at specific times or when certain events are triggered.
A relatively new aspect of intelligent audio gaining traction in the market is audio analytics. When added to the network, it provides campuses a way to detect threats that may initially appear out of camera view—such as weapons fire, breaking glass, car alarms or sounds of aggression. Campuses can configure these analytics to initiate any number of responses depending on the detected event: everything from sending an alert to security while simultaneously directing the nearest cameras to the sound’s location, to locking doors, flashing lights, or broadcasting warning messages to perpetrators.
Creating a layered and integrated security solution
In the bygone era of standalone security systems, efforts to respond to events quickly were often impeded by the lack of communication between technologies. The synergy within today’s integrated security solutions provides security with the means for earlier threat detection, quicker assessment of events and greater coordination to ensure an effective response.
This article originally appeared in the July / August 2022 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.