Five Ways Technology Can Forge a Safer Campus
- By Rich LeCates
- October 01, 2018
The conclusion of the last academic year likely is not one
college safety and administrative officials will add to an
industry honor roll anytime soon. Nationally publicized
on-campus shootings and sexual assault cases left many
students, parents, employees and even law enforcement
agencies questioning what more their schools could do to further
Ironically, the recently brighter spotlight on campus violence comes
during an era where college administrators are spending more than
ever on next-level security. A January 2015 Bureau of Justice Statistics
report noted the number of full-time campus law enforcement employees
grew by 16 percent between 2005 and 2012, or at a pace faster than
the growth in student enrollment (11 percent). Last year, sales of security
equipment and services to the education sector reached $2.7 billion,
up from $2.5 billion in 2015, according to data from IHS Markit.
However, despite these investments, campus security teams still face
great strain against growing student enrollments, expanding facilities
and campus borders that increasingly overlap with neighboring communities.
Even with assistance from city officials and resources, campus
security teams can feel overwhelmed with the burdens of safeguarding
thousands of students and employees. The National Center
for Education Statistics calculated that persons and property on campus
at two- and four-year institutions were subject to more than 27,500
criminal incidents in 2015, up two percent from the preceding year.
However, this number paints an incomplete picture as it does not factor
in crimes that happen off campus, and outside of the scope of campus
administrators and public safety teams.
Given the rise in campus crime and the greater pressure from students
and officials to counter it, smart technologies can play a significant
role in driving change. While advancements such as data science,
cloud storage, machine learning and Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity
are commonly associated with private business, these innovations
have the potential to overcome staffing shortages and provide
campus safety officials with broader intelligence that can improve efficiencies
and potentially save lives.
With both the fall semester and planning for the new year already
underway, now is a great time for university officials to explore new
avenues to better serve their students, staff and community through
operational upgrades that will drive change and fuel confidence. These
five considerations can guide your evaluation and inspire new strategic
thinking for a safer and smarter campus.
What if campus officials could leverage deeper and more streamlined
data to not only reduce the reach and frequency of criminal behavior,
but even prevent it from happening in the first place?
Automated databases can simplify communication among involved
campus safety officials, leveraging specialized algorithms to track criminal patterns and identify trends that can anticipate future activity.
Many campus and local police departments already pull and coordinate
information from multiple sources to determine officer allocation
and patrol priorities. However, through advanced machine learning,
officials can analyze a full scope of crime data and recommend hourby-
hour patrol areas based on the likelihood of an incident. For
instance, if a particular street is prone to car break-ins on Thursday
mornings, police chiefs can increase officer presence in that area during
Beyond anticipating criminal activity, data-driven patrolling
enables officers to identify and proactively engage with potential
repeat offenders and individuals likely to take retaliatory action. Local
and campus officers can work with school administrators, academic
advisors and housing officials to gather information about an individual’s
incident history, connections and arrest record. Should red
flags emerge, campus safety officials can seek out these individuals
and hold conversations that emphasize the consequences of future
violent behavior. An emphasis on deterrence can not only directly
stop violent behavior, but better integrate and build trust for officers
among the campus community.
COORDINATED AND FASTER EMERGENCY RESPONSE
The rise in incidents involving armed aggressors, active shooters and
multi-victim crime escalates the need for better alignment and communication
across local and campus law enforcement, fire and EMS
response teams. Fortunately, the integration of single-source Computer
Aided Dispatch (CAD) software can fine-tune analytics and
information-sharing and eliminate delays and confusion that can hinder
the health and safety of endangered individuals.
Powered by automated data collection and IoT connectivity, CAD
systems enable campus and local safety officials to review and dispatch
emergency response resources from available connected agencies
immediately after an incident is logged. This real-time compatibility
eliminates manual steps from the traditional report-and-search process
and gets the right responders to the scene faster. First responders
likewise can synchronize mobile apps to their CAD systems to ensure
clear and consistent communications with offsite dispatchers and incident
Eventually, it’s possible that school officials will expand IoT connectivity
to professors, classrooms and resident halls for more additional
insight during lockdown scenarios. This information ultimately will
help responders understand where the greatest recovery needs lie, and
isolate incidents to specific segments of a potentially large building.
SAFEGUARDING THE SAFETY TEAMS
While state-of-the-art technologies can elevate protection for students,
employees and their property, they also grant an extra layer of intelligent
defense for the responders tasked with diffusing, analyzing and
leading recovery following criminal incidents. Here, real-time data
provides previously unavailable visibility that prevents individuals
from entering volatile and unfamiliar situations with little to no
knowledge of their surroundings.
Through advanced connectivity and situational analysis, offsite
response teams can alert field officials of changing crime scene dynamics
and notify them about potentially hazardous or closed access points
within a given site. Such insights can help responders modify their
approaches before entering a scene, rather than during, and bring situations
to a safer conclusion.
During fast-moving or intense field activity, it’s likely that officers
will not be able to keep consistent contact. IoT monitoring can provide
vital information during these critical windows. Non-field officers and
dispatchers can track devices to gauge if an officer is in a high-speed
chase, has fired a weapon, or has gone silent and may require backup.
Along the way, colleagues also can monitor responders’ blood pressure,
heart rate and mobility to not only evaluate changing situational
dynamics (such as an on-foot chase), but make staffing decisions that
will preserve their teammates’ health.
SNUFFING THE SMOKE ON FALSE ALARMS
Although illegal and dangerous, false fire alarms are inevitable on a
college campus full of pranksters and first-time cooks. Unfortunately,
these actions place a greater burden on local and campus law enforcement
and fire responders who must address the alarm call while possibly
being diverted away from tending to a more urgent event.
Campus security officials can offset this problem by implementing
false alarm management platforms that can gauge the likelihood of a
harmless incident and communicate more intelligently with on-site
detectors. A more guided review not only drives smarter decisionmaking,
but inspires a faster response to actual fire incidents. Let’s look
at the City of Atlanta as an example, although it’s larger than its in-city
college campuses, the City of Atlanta has recouped the equivalent of
eight to 12 full-time police officers by eliminating time otherwise wasted
in responding to false alarms.
MOBILIZING ACTIVE SHOOTER MITIGATION
As the most dire of potential campus crimes, the recent prevalence of
active shooter incidents has inspired calls for strategic change among
safety officials. In response, a host of schools across the country are
implementing new, sensor-based technologies that can automatically
alert local officials to gun-related incidents.
These evolving gunfire detection technologies embed special microphones
both in individuals’ cell phones and connected IoT devices that
can detect gunfire acoustic signatures and immediately trigger a CAD
response call. At the same time, GPS location services create virtual
“dots” identifying anyone carrying a cell phone, offering responders a
digital floorplan highlighting the locations of the greatest concentrations
of individuals either in hiding or requiring attention. This
instinctive alerting saves precious minutes during an active shooter
incident that otherwise require responders to wait for a call from a
panicked student or employee, and can make the difference in potential
It’s unrealistic to expect that campus and local safety officials will
ever be able to fully eliminate crime from university facilities and
surrounding communities. College students, either unfamiliar with
their surroundings or careless with their property, will always remain
susceptible to crime. However, through enhanced technologies that
offer end-to-end, real-time visibility and streamline operational processes,
campus safety agencies can take every precaution possible to
protect students and employees and respond faster and more efficiently
Digital innovation inspires new idea sharing
that will benefit campuses nationwide, and
build better trust with and preserve reputation
among current campus inhabitants, alumni and
This article originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.