How to Leverage AI
Improving situational awareness on campus
- By Jason David
- April 14, 2020
Academic reputation is a key driver for colleges and
universities to attract the best students, but campus
safety is becoming an increasingly important factor
in the college-choice equation. Topping the list of
safety concerns is the threat of gun violence at
schools, which struck on a nearly weekly basis in the past year in the
United States. Of the 45 school shootings that took place up to Nov.
19, 2019, 14 occurred on higher education campuses, according to a
The active-shooter-on-campus threat is real, and it’s the primary
threat that keeps campus safety leaders up at night thinking of new
ways to detect, deter and react to such incidents. Other top campus
crime concerns include burglaries, forcible sex offenses, vehicle theft,
assault and robberies.
While the number of on-campus crimes between 2001 and 2016
decreased by 32 percent, proactive safety officials should be aware of
new solutions that can help them anticipate crisis events and mitigate
potential threats to students, staff and property.
The particular solution discussed in this article is the Situational
Awareness Program that consists of incident and case management
and situational awareness platforms that leverage big data and artificial
intelligence and pair them with human analysis. But before I
show you what a Situational Awareness Program consists of and how
it works, let me place this into the context of how big data and artificial
intelligence are affecting the security industry.
Big Data and Artificial Intelligence on Campus
Campus safety leaders should be aware of a growing evolutionary
force in the security industry called Security 4.0. It’s similar to when
the manufacturing industry first heard the term Industry 4.0 or the 4th Industrial Revolution.
In short, it’s related to modern smart factories where processes are
increasingly automated, systems and facilities analyze themselves, and
connected AI monitoring programs communicate with each other and
their human coworkers. The end result is faster, smoother processes
that free human participants for tasks that require a human touch.
The security industry is on a similar path with Security 4.0. While
most security programs remain highly manual and almost entirely
human-based, security programs are becoming increasingly connected
to automation. Artificial intelligence, analytics and machine
learning are changing the way we run our programs in ways that
seemed impossible just a few years ago.
One way campus security leaders can embrace Security 4.0 is by
deploying a Situational Awareness Program that connects incident
and case management data with real-time critical event intelligence
technologies that are driven by big data and artificial intelligence.
Pairing these technologies with human data and intelligence analysts
can increase safety and mitigate risk.
Here are the three essentials for creating a campus Situational
Incident and Case Management Software
Campus security programs should deploy incident and case management
software and collect data on all on-campus incidents as well as
off-campus incidents that directly impact their institution.
A good incident and case management platform enables users to
automate, document, investigate and analyze incidents. The best platforms
are user-friendly and highly configurable with instant notifications,
time stamping and geo-location functionality to provide leaders
with a clear picture of what is happening on their campus and
where those incidents take place.
The ultimate goal of the platform is to help campus security leaders
identify gaps and become more effective at mitigating potential risks. As
security teams collect information in the platform over time, they can
begin to identify trends and direct their staff to respond accordingly.
Let’s take burglaries, which make up the majority of on-campus
crimes, as an example. As these crimes are logged into the incident
and case management platform, security teams can identify trends,
locations and times that would enable security officials to respond in
ways to mitigate future incidents.
Situational Awareness Platform
In addition to collecting data with incident and case management
software, security leaders can improve their security and mitigate risk
by tapping into big data with a situational awareness platform.
Long gone are the days of relying on spotty search engine results and
sifting through mountains of data in search of meaningful information.
Today’s situational awareness platform tools can mine, aggregate
and filter out the noise of news feeds, social posts and open-source
information to find specific critical event intelligence that can help
security teams better respond and resolve potential risks that may
affect campus life.
A good example of this is a large campus event that draws crowds.
While most large-scale events are peaceful, there are occasional
unforeseen circumstances that could impact event attendees and the
overall security of the area.
Consequently, while campus security has an extremely difficult
task of pre-event planning and managing crowd control to ensure the
event attendees remain safe, they can also incorporate critical event
intelligence tools that could geo-fence the concert area within a specific
radius and then aggregate data from open sources, especially
social media and other online platforms, to understand public sentiment
around the event.
This gives campus security the capability to understand the evolving
risk landscape and also receive specific intelligence — car accidents,
blocked roads, violence, planned protests — which gives significant
lead time to respond to and mitigate threats.
In-House Data and Intelligence Analyst
Once the incident and case management and situational awareness
platforms are established, campus security leaders should hire inhouse
data and intelligence analysts who can combine and analyze
both on-campus and off-campus data to identify trends or potential
To overcome budget challenges, campus security leaders could use
this opportunity to hire an intelligence/data analyst and supplement
that position with students pursuing a degree in related fields, such as
criminal justice, national security, data analytics and security intelligence.
This opportunity could be offered either through a federal
work study position or internship for students seeking to develop
more knowledge and skills in this field.
This type of engagement not only increases the level of communication
between students and campus security, but also reinforces the
university perception of campus security/police in a positive light by
allowing students to have a vested interest in the overall safety of the
campus. At the same time, they are honing skills that could expand
their horizons when it comes to career options.
While these technology toolsets can provide a big boost in making
the job of campus security more seamless, they are not without their
limitations, especially when it comes to analyzing data in order to
detect where resources should be allocated or which aspects of the
security program need more attention.
The toolsets by themselves cannot interpret results, forecast trends
or tell decisionmakers where they should focus. Analysts can review
disparate pieces of data and augment that data with actionable threat
and impact analysis reporting to equip campus decisionmakers with
enough information to develop new protocols and help mitigate
existing and future risks.
Notably, analysts can identify security and intelligence gaps on
campus. These gaps are pivotal because they can serve as the impetus
for security leaders to work with university stakeholders to learn how
to address those issues.
Additionally, rather than campus security focusing their efforts on
interpreting collected situational intelligence, they could become
more efficient by relying on analysis by the intelligence/data team for
guidance on how to make effective decisions.
Campus security leaders have the extremely difficult task of leveraging
existing and prospective resource capabilities to ensure that students,
faculty and staff are safe. This is made more difficult when they
do not have the right tools available to them, or are operating within a
structure that is not designed for the threat landscape of today.
In a new era of sporadic and unpredictable active shooter incidents
and workplace violence incidents across the country, security executives
have a dual role in keeping their campuses safe but also continuously
seek out new technologies that are increasingly built with
robust artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities to help
them stay ahead of the curve.
It is obvious there are no fool-proof technology toolsets or security
programs that could completely prevent critical events from occurring
on campus, particularly when it seems that new threats and platforms
for planning violence continue to expand.
However, if effectively paired with analysts and the right tools,
Situational Awareness Programs can help university and college campuses
optimize the way they mitigate threats, both now and in the
This article originally appeared in the January / February 2020 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.