Five Ways Technology Can Forge a Safer Campus

Five Ways Technology Can Forge a Safer Campus

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 their safety.

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 that time.

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.


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 monitors.

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.


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.


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.


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 lives lost.

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 to incidents.

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 neighboring cities.

This article originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.

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