Doing more with less

Doing more with less

Making your campus security smarter by Peter Greener, Key Account Manager, Northern Europe, Milestone Systems

More than ever, educational institutions are under pressure to keep students safe - but those responsible for campus security are subject to the same strains on budgets seen across departments. Yet by embracing open platform technology, campus security systems can easily provide added levels of security, while offering valuable new campus management functions - delivering greater insights into how facilities are used and revealing operational efficiencies – often using legacy equipment.

Security is a must-have, not a nice-to-have

Educational institutions exist to help students fulfil their potential. This task is impossible if they don’t feel secure on campus, so effective campus security is as important to the learning experience as the teaching and faculty. It’s also an increasing concern for students, parents, teachers and support staff, alike.

A simple Google search for campus safety brings up rankings of the best and worst places to live as a student, based on crime rates and a university’s investment in security infrastructure. These considerations are becoming more of a deciding factor when students (and their parents) are choosing where to invest in their higher education, for good reason: across 16 UK campuses, 133,920 crimes were reported between May 2021 and April 2022, ranging from 44,322 violent and sexual offences, to 25,701 antisocial incidents.

This reveals the challenge for campus security teams: while they are grappling with higher student expectations and combatting a range of different crimes, they are doing so with often aging infrastructure and limited budgets.

Injecting innovation into your security infrastructure

Relying on legacy security system infrastructure doesn’t have to limit the options available to those responsible for their campuses, however, if they have an open platform video management system (VMS).

VMS technology was originally developed to control all the cameras on a security network and to allow operators to capture, review and search video footage. A VMS can provide a single view of all the devices on campus (or even across multiple campuses) so security teams can be more effective, their situational awareness improved and their ability to manage incidents enhanced.

While its roots lie in video, a VMS now integrates with other security systems such as access control and intrusion detection. And, as the Internet of Things (IoT) establishes itself further across the workplace, devices that control lighting, heating and ventilation and other building functions can be managed from a VMS.

Making systems smarter and work harder

What’s more, the emergence of AI (artificial intelligence) ‘at the edge’ in video cameras, or built into a VMS, means security systems are now intelligent. A system using AI-powered ‘video analytics’ is able to notify operators if a defined event is detected on camera, for example, such as an individual spotted in a restricted area, or a lecture theatre that has become overcrowded.

Of course, adding intelligence to a campus security system is particularly useful at a time when budgets are being squeezed yet security expectations keep rising, because video analytics allow stretched resources to be deployed to meet real, not imagined needs.

Analytics allow operators to understand precisely where and when anti-social behaviour on their campuses occurs, meaning guards can be deployed to those areas in particular, instead of undertaking broader routes. With AI working in the background to monitor for suspicious behaviour or events, operators can focus on more valuable tasks, knowing that anything important will be picked up by the system and alerted to.

Remaining open to innovation

To gain this functionality, however, and to avoid ending up down a technology dead end, an open platform VMS is essential. An open platform VMS like Milestone’s XProtect solution is guaranteed to operate with a vast range of devices from different manufacturers. XProtect is constantly revised as new cameras and other devices are brought to market, so it not only ensures backwards compatibility with legacy equipment, but allows new devices that bring added functionality to be added to the same system with ease. This allows educational establishments to modernise and standardise their systems over time while meeting budget constraints.

By using an open platform VMS, managers are free to choose whatever devices and functionality best suits their campuses’ needs. Compare this with a so-called ‘closed system’ that locks users into choosing from a limited list of equipment from only certain manufacturers, limiting access to many new and innovative technologies.

For Paul Greenlees, [deputy head of security] at Manchester University, open platform technology was important for this precise reason. “Manchester University invested in Milestone XProtect, an open system that supports multiple integrations. This allows us to futureproof to emerging needs as well as add devices and functionality as we go along”, says Paul.  

Beyond security and towards a wider video of the campus

One of the trends in video technology that campus managers are increasingly embracing is the ability to leverage the added value that their security system can provide. By effectively treating a video camera as another IoT sensor, analytics can be focused on the data that cameras generate to reveal deep insights into how an estate is used, when, and by whom. This means the security system is no longer just keeping people, property and assets safe, but helping operators understand better how they interact.

Such a transformation is underway at Sheffield Hallam University (SHU), one of the largest universities in the UK with around 31,000 students based in two campuses across Sheffield. One campus is based in the city centre while another is 1.5 miles away in southwest Sheffield.

The team decided to upgrade to a new Internet Protocol (IP) security system and consolidate the many signals coming in from alarms, cameras, and intercoms, into an open platform system. This enabled SHU to still use its existing cameras, applications, and fibre network, but gave additional functionality, plus the flexibility to experiment with new devices and integrations.

One such integration was a new LPR (license plate recognition) module that has automated a barrier along a service road. Recognised vehicles are automatically granted access, so operators are not constantly interrupted by requests for access. Further integrations being explored include incorporating access control functions to allow automated and scheduled door locking and building alarm activation, functions that currently manual tasks.

Fit for the future

At a time when budgets and being squeezed but expectations are growing, adopting an open platform for security technology allows those responsible for their campuses to not only give new life to their systems, but plan for the future.

For, as new technological innovations are made available and added into a system with ease, so the whole campus estate is upgraded, with new insights unearthed and greater efficiencies made possible.

In doing so, smart campuses based around an open platform security system are moving beyond security alone, to gain a bigger picture of their operations – revealing aspects that were previously hidden from view.

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