Need for security mass notification in higher education

Milestone's open platform can help colleges and universities in their fight against violence on campus.

Source: Eifeh Strom | Date: 02/19/2014

Deadly violence on university campuses is an unfortunate reality. Less than one month into 2014, 3 reported incidents of gun violence were reported in the U.S. — 2 of the incidents lead to 2 deaths. However, deadly attacks are not limited to gun violence — a stabbing attack in 2013 left 14 injured at Lone Star College–CyFair in Texas, U.S.

Immediately after the Virginia Tech tragedy, many universities invested in mass notification systems. However, Pascale notes that mass notification systems have not evolved much since then. Pascale explained that despite the initial rush to acquire mass notification systems, the ability to use them and integrate them with other forms of technology such as SMS, telephone, email, outdoor warning systems, internal public address systems, digital signage, etc. has not made any significant leaps.

Retrofitting for the Future

Based on a survey of 616 projects, CP&M reported that 12.9 percent of the $1.3 billion spent on renovations in 2012 was spent on security equipment. More specifically, a survey on what types of renovations and upgrades US residence halls were considering in the next 3 to 5 years showed that 43 % were considering adding and/or upgrading their camera/surveillance systems, 36 % were considering the same for their access control systems, and 27 % their sprinkler/fire alarm systems. However, it was also noted that the extent of new and upgraded systems has been stunted due to budgetary restrictions. In addition to monetary challenges, retrofitting buildings on college campuses can be a complicated task. Oftentimes colleges are forced to retrofit older and sometimes historic buildings that are hundreds of years old, according to Pascale. “In many cases, it can cost anywhere from two to five times the cost of initial construction. With limited budgets, due diligence is critical as it's important to get it right the first time.”

Another difficulty with retrofit projects is that they frequently involve older buildings that are less likely to have the advanced technological capabilities needed for newer technology. “In a way, new projects are easier to scope out and deploy since the ideal architecture is designed from scratch. Most cases, however, are retrofits which demand an assessment of current technology, the remaining lifespan of such and the true benefit they might still provide,” said Lawrence de Guzman, Director of Global Sales Operations, Verticals, OEM, and Key Accounts at Milestone Systems.

Open Systems and Integration
The importance of integration has been a hot topic in the security industry and the education sector is joining in on the conversation. “We see a need and attempt by many institutions to integrate disparate systems and leverage technology as a force multiplier while creating operational efficiencies,” Pascale pointed out. “In many cases, individual departments have installed their own systems and there is little centralization or standardization.” However, facilities of all kinds hit a speed bump when trying to find compatible systems. That is why open systems are playing a key role in integration.

“There is a distinct trend towards open platforms, which enables beneficial integrations with other systems, thereby empowering a total solution into more than just the sum of its parts,” said de Guzman. In particular to higher education, Scirica noted, “Campus security officials seek VMS platforms that easily integrate with other security and non-security systems, such as video analytics. An open architecture approach and a commitment to open standards help manufacturers deliver VMS platforms that will be able to work with other systems as organizational and security needs grow.”

Rising up to Challenges
Every vertical has its own set of unique challenges and requirements. In order to properly and successfully address these issues, it is important for manufacturers and systems integrators to work together. “We believe integrators and manufacturers should act as partners with a common goal of establishing trust with an end user,” said Loy. “At the same time, integrators should rely on their manufacturers to play a valuable support role to help them assess and respond to customer expectations. Customer satisfaction depends on the best efforts of everyone involved in a system sale.”

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