Protecting Outdoor Spaces
Criminals are aware of unsafe zones during the night
- By Bruce Czerwinski
- January 01, 2017
College and university campuses have hundreds— even thousands—of outdoor acres to secure, from parking lots to exercise trails. however, many of the standard security solutions— locks, access control and intrusion alarms—used to protect the indoor environment have little impact outdoors.
Securing these outdoor spaces takes a different mindset. Indoors, a
lot of effort is spent protecting assets. Outdoors, it’s mostly about protecting
people. It’s about the student walking late at night between the
library and dorms, and the student heading to the last car in a remote
Unlike a K-12 campus, which can be fenced to provide a single public
entry, university campuses have many access points. This is often
intentional. Administrators actively promote campus entertainment
and sporting events to the public. Clinics, research projects and more
attract additional community members. Criminals are aware of this
accessibility and can easily target anyone who walks through campus.
Fortunately, there are proven security solutions to help keep students
and staff safe outside of the classroom, dorm, offices and library.
These best practices call for layers of security, each contributing to help
protect people in the outdoor environment.
Video surveillance cameras provide real-time and forensic views of
the campus and act as a deterrent to criminals. Prominent signage at
all main entries and throughout the campus should remind everyone
they are under police surveillance.
Emergency stations are another highly-effective electronic security
solution. Typically topped with a bright blue light, these easily recognizable
stations put students and visitors into immediate contact with
campus police. Built-in audio intercoms provide two-way communication
without the cost of additional telephone lines.
The stations can also be equipped with video intercoms, providing
police with real-time video, helpful in assessing situations. The units
can be integrated with existing campus surveillance cameras for a broader view of the area.
These stations are available in IP-based models which connect to the
campus network and draw power over the Ethernet using Cat-5e/6
cable. They come as stand-alone towers or wall-mounted boxes. Braille
signage and adjustable call button heights allow them to comply with
Other advantages of emergency stations include:
- They are always available – day and night.
- Police dispatchers can immediately locate the precise location of calls.
- Built-in speakers can be used to broadcast emergency information.
- Two call buttons – one for emergencies and another for non-critical
calls, such as requests for campus directions.
Emergency stations are ideal for all campus areas, such as parking
lots and garages, large open spaces, in and around dorms, and recreation
centers and near elevators. They should be placed so that at least
two stations are within view to allow a distressed student the option of
choosing the closest unit.
Smartphones, carried by virtually all students, allow campuses to
employ one of the dozens of commercial and campus-initiated apps
capable of accessing campus police. Most allow the submission of voice
and video. They also allow others with the app to track a friend’s progress
as they walk to their destination.
However, these apps have limitations. They require a student to
enroll in the program and download the necessary app. Few, if any,
campuses report full enrollment. Police need to know precisely where
to respond to a call for help. While mobile phone tracking can be accurate
to within a few feet in ideal conditions, weather, the proximity of
cell towers, the signal carrier, topography and other factors can significantly
decrease accuracy. Also, remote campus areas may have
weak or non-existent phone coverage.
Apps are useless if the phone battery has died or if the phone was
stolen in an encounter. And if attacked or chased, students may not
have time to pull a phone from a backpack or pocket to open the necessary
app. This doesn’t totally diminish the value of these apps as they
can serve as another valuable layer of outdoor security.
On any campus, many of the principals of CPTED (Crime Prevention
Through Environmental Design) apply. Trimming bushes and
trees to deny criminals hiding places is a good idea. Adding lighting
and replacing burned-out bulbs helps. Fences and gates help keep
people away from potentially dangerous situations.
Trained police officers or security guards on regular patrol—on foot,
bike or car—can be an effective deterrent. By being out of the station,
they can respond more quickly to reports of a crime.
Another popular idea on many campuses is the use of a safety
escort. This may involve campus police or carefully screened student
volunteers to accompany students crossing the campus at night.
A slightly different twist on this is in place at the University of California,
Davis. There the police chief set up a “Safe Rides” program
offering students a ride home after campus transportation ends for the
night. The program recently provided rides for 5,000 students in one
month. The popularity of the program has the chief looking to expand
There is no one technology, device or service capable of handling all
outdoor campus emergencies. It's all about layering multiple solutions.
The synergy of video surveillance, emergency towers and stations,
CPTED, police patrols, safety escorts and smartphone apps all combine
to make a more secure campus.
How much of each layer is required will vary on the size, location,
number of students and other factors on each campus. A risk assessment,
conducted by an experienced security professional, can help any
campus pinpoint its security strengths and weaknesses. The assessment
should also lead to a plan that helps administrators determine
how and where limited budgets should be spent.
A college or university campus is a complex community. The openness,
number of people and the physical size of campuses make them
one of the biggest security challenges.
But there has never been more pressure on campuses to be secure.
Federal law mandates campuses report crimes, and those reports are
important factors when parents help their children
select a college or university. Fortunately,
there are industry best practices available to make
any campus safer and more secure—within buildings
This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.