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Caught on Camera

New surveillance technologies boost campus security efforts.
University Business, Jan 2005

Never doubt the importance of good surveillance technology. Take, for example, the case of a missing former University of Wisconsin-Madison student, which occurred last spring. Police searched for Audrey Seiler and after finding her in a marsh, went on the hunt for a "bad man" Seiler accused of abducting her from her campus apartment and holding her captive. Several hundred volunteers joined the effort and a national media blitz followed.

The search turned up no leads, and not long afterwards video surveillance footage taken at a local store showed Seiler buying duct tape, a knife, and rope to "fake" her own abduction. Her explanation: Depression drove her to erratic behavior. Accurate footage cracked the case.

The incident may not have the dramatic ending that makes for a good episode of Without a Trace, but it does prove the utility of surveillance technology.

These days, cameras are eyeing everything on campus. But these surveillance cameras are not the old "shoebox" models that have been in banks and retail stores since the mid-1980s. These are inconspicuous domes whose base colors blend with the walls and beams on which they are mounted. They are small, they are wired, and they capture thousands of hours of digital data.

These cameras can be programmed, as well, to capture activity only during certain hours, eliminating the need to record the views of empty corridors and classrooms. Some digital cameras are motion sensitive, activating only when they detect something suspicious. Through behavioral analysis, they identify if people are where they shouldn't be, such as a research lab after hours. Some might begin recording when a person walks down a hallway.

"They can identify people who are walking fast, behaving erratically. They won't record someone entering an office at an expected time and sitting in a chair, but they will start recording if a person starts taking artwork off the walls," says Adam Thermos, president of Strategic Technology Group, a consulting firm that has worked on higher ed and K-12 campus security installations.

These motion sensitive cameras operate in much the same way motion-sensitive light switches do. They are either driven by sensors installed in the fixture, or by network software that "informs" the mechanism about when to turn on and when to "sleep."

Motion sensitive cameras can be calibrated to detect the slightest movement, only unusual things in the field of vision. The camera may do nothing while "watching" a mailbox in an office building, but will begin recording if someone places a box next to it and walks away. Many camera models have "nightvision" to keep watch on research labs and lecture halls that house expensive equipment.

"For more than 20 years we were captive to analog technology," explains Thermos. This meant that cameras had to be connected to cable systems. Today, most digital cameras are IP addressable, which means they can send data over the internet; some are even wireless models.

behavioral analysis,
the cameras identify
if people are where
they shouldn't be.

Newer dome cameras can compress and store data, allowing for efficient and quick feeds over campus networks. Security personnel can simultaneously monitor what the camera sees from a lapor a PDA. They can remotely take in many camera feeds at once, scanning what is happening in diverse campus areas. Personnel can also control the cameras' views--zooming in and out, panning and tilting, to get a better look at what is going on. Cameras that are activated by suspicious movement can "ping" security personnel with e-mail messages. This equipment can be networked to alarm system panels, too, setting off bells and warning messages.

Such a setup eliminates that need for security personnel to be stationed at a specific bank of monitors, mindnumbingly scanning hours of uneventful footage. Digital technology is doing away with this dull, and expensive, task. As Thermos notes, personnel costs are expensive, digital storage is cheap.

Which is why more digital cameras are showing up on campus. The half-inch minidome camera can cost as little as $300, says Thermos. By comparison, the older, "shoebox" style camera used to cost at least $2,000.

The Georgia Institute of Technology uses such digital surveillance to keep watch over its design lab and activity center. These are academic areas where students indulge their flights of fancy, building new racing cars for GIT's off-track racing team, robots, and other high-tech gizmos. Axis security cameras keep watch over the design equipment and student projects--allowing staff and students to watch on their laptops from remote locations. "They are using the cameras for dual purposes," says Fredrik Nilson, general manager for Axis Communications. "Students can see if the lab is available for them to use; security personally can monitor the equipment."

GIT invested a reported $50,000 in the surveillance technology to keep watch over an estimated $1 million in academic equipment.

New digital security systems store data on DVRs. Though not exactly new--the DVR has been on the market for five years--models are becoming more affordable for higher education, says Richard Chace, executive director of the Security Industry Association. Whereas the first models sold for as much as $5,000, the DVR for campus security use is now in the $600 to $1,500 price range. (There are home electronics models now selling for as little as several hundred dollars.)

Depending on memory, DVRs can store large amounts of data and can be programmed to keep any number of days, weeks, or months of recorded images. Images captured on a specific day, hour, or minute can be called up immediately, eliminating the need to wade or fast-forward through videotape. DVRs also solve another campus problem: storage. The storage of VHS tapes, even those that record as little as one week's or one month's activity, can require shelves and shelves in storage space. Digital data can be stored on a server. The digital alternative provides another advantage: Tape fades over time, while digital data does not.

Digital technology also allows campus security to pinpoint an exact day and time in the recorded materials, eliminating the need to try to synch a tape to a particular time frame.

Concordia University (Montreal, Canada) installed a digital security system in its Henry F. Hall Building, a downtown academic center that houses scientific, biological, and research facilities. One DigiEyeLT server is installed on each of four floors in the 10-story building. Each server accepts digital feeds from four cameras. The cameras keep a constant watch on the stairwells and hallways, sensing for unexpected activity.

At any given time, up to eight users can view what the cameras are seeing. Because the system in connected to a wireless area network, they can view the images on a computer screen or PDA. They also can remotely review what happened during a particular time frame, and zoom in for better views.

The University of Alabama Tuscaloosa, which enrolls 20,000 students, is using digital surveillance to monitor approximately 20 buildings.

In all, 150 Kalatel minidome cameras monitor the buildings' entrances and exits. A GE system, comprised of software and technology, networks the cameras and the visual data to the campus IT network and, ultimately, to storage devices.

The setup allows campus investigators to monitor each camera on their individual PCs or PDAs.

UA began the overall installation two years ago with its business school. Prior to the security upgrade, six projectors were taken one summer from one academic building and five from another. Total loss: $15,000 in presentation technology equipment. The need for tighter security was obvious, says Michael Cobb, chief security systems technician.

Today, the digital security system protects key academic buildings, especially the multimedia labs in the school of communications. "We have cameras for TV studio work, plasma screens that cost $7,000 each, and control rooms between the labs," says Cobb.

Now digital cameras, and the network connections, provide security surveillance not only for this academic investment, but also for the campus' art museum. A similar digital network will soon secure the sports stadium (which has a seating capacity of 83,800) and keep a watchful "eye" on two new parking decks that are under construction.

Digital security is also in place at UA's "special collections" library, which houses valuables and the letters of composer Stephen Foster. Cameras monitor all six tables in the library where students view materials on site. Adding such security measures to the UA special collections followed a heist of some of Foster's letters, which one student stole and sold on eBay. This incident prompted the installation of digital cameras and a digital video recorder with one terabyte of capacity.

"A camera isn't able to respond to someone assaulting someone on campus." -Patrick Donaldson, principal in the security-consulting firm Metsger Forbes

Texas A&M University, home to 44,000 students, is using 200 DVTel motion-sensitive digital surveillance cameras to monitor its five parking garages throughout the campus. The installation was complete in 2003, says Doug Williams, associate director for Transportation Services. The cameras are networked so that security personnel at a specific site can still monitor what is happening on the other sites. This wasn't possible under the older-tape-driven system.

The cameras can be programmed to watch all activity or specific "suspicious" actions, such as one person moving from car to car.

The total investment in the cameras, data storage servers, racks and power supply totaled $400,000, says Williams. The pay-off has been a more efficient system that requires fewer security personnel. The campus police and parking departments have been able to overlap on duties and monitor the garages from remote locations. UA still employs security personnel to provide customer service at the garages, but the behind-the-scenes efforts require fewer people to implement them.

"I don't know if the public is aware of the change," says Williams. "The biggest thing for me is peace of mind. Even if no one is doing anything, the machine is still running and recording. We can play back data with better quality and reliability, capturing the video and audio."

Technology, mind you, will never be able to replace the human element. "A camera isn't able to respond to someone assaulting someone on campus," notes Patrick Donaldson, principal in the security-consulting firm Metsger Forbes. "We still need responders." The technology, though, makes it easier for campus police to fulfill their mission: keeping the campus safe and handling emergencies in a timely manner.

There was a resistance to surveillance cameras in the late 1980s and early 1990s, observes Strategic Techonolgy's Thermos. But by the mid-1990s higher education institutions began installing cameras in lab facilities, and in nuclear science facilities. "By 2000 we had great acceptance from the school community," he says.

The worries about rights to privacy have given way to demands for tight security on campus, says Chace. "Parents and students have greater expectations about security." It helps, too, that more campuses are wired and that lower-cost digital surveillance equipment can be installed to work on these existing networks.

By 2000, the University of Pennsylvania had a reported 200 security cameras installed on campus. That total was doubled by 2003. Brown University (R.I.) now has more than 100 cameras on campus.

"Cameras are being installed in the areas of campus that are most trafficked: the student and recreation centers, game rooms, places were people come together to study," says Donaldson of Metsger Forbes. Prior, installation was limited to parking garages and academic buildings.

Pennsylvania State University ignited a controversy this fall when it considered camera installations on city streets. The proposed move was in reaction to after-game rioting and these cameras would have been placed only on the most trafficked streets around the campus. Students worried about invasion of privacy. With cameras watching the city streets, would administrators be able to observe who is entering a frat house or a dormitory?

To date, there are 129 surveillance cameras on the Penn State campus, says Don Reed, police officer and security systems specialist, who adds that the idea of installing additional cameras on the streets was tabled because the troubling behavior stopped. But the question is bound to surface again here or on other campuses. There is no easy answer yet.

To date, campus security experts have maintained that we are not going to see cameras, and the related DVR recorders, in dormitory hallways. The tangle of privacy issues is still too tightly knotted. Each school has its own student privacy policies, which binds officials to protect personal information.

However, higher ed institutions, both public and private, are bound by law to release crime statistics annually, including information about assaults on campus.

The Campus Security Act, also known as the Clery Act, is named after Jeanne Clery, a Lehigh University (Pa.) student who was raped and murdered in her dorm. This act, which became law in 1990, spells out the specifics about crime reporting on or around campus.

Given the legal requirements and the availability of equipment, wouldn't it make sense to install cameras on dormitory floors? The campus security specialists who work for IBM's safety and security team acknowledge that they are getting more questions about security inside the doors. Presently, digital surveillance is confined to entrances and exits. "The question is: Where do you draw the line?" says Jimmy Newman, principal of IBM's consulting security division. "Do we put cameras at the front door and leave it at that? Do we put them in common areas?" The larger unanswered questions point to the students' right to privacy and the university's obligation to protect. There is no doubt that cameras in dormitories will alter campus life. There would be fewer students partying openly, for example, but there would also be less ability to make a dorm a "home." "Joe would not walk to the shower in boxer shorts and Suzie would not step into the hallway in a nightgown," says Newman.

But Donaldson wonders if the day when we'll see digital, networked security equipment in the dormitory is coming sooner than others think. He reasons that the majority of dorm rooms are now connected to a larger IT network. That connection has allowed students to use their PCs, peripherals, MP3 players, and other electronics from the comfort of their dorm rooms. Given this development, dorm rooms could become a prime target for theft.

If digital cameras are not the answer, perhaps other technologies are. The hospitality industry--and its use of plastic key cards-- may be the model to follow. "Ten years ago hotel guests still used a regular key to enter a room," he says. "Now no one questions using a piece of plastic for electronic access. We will see this in higher ed."

And while students might not see cameras in the hallways, there may be more of them installed in stairwells and common areas in the residence halls. There are a few early adopters who are already using the digital cameras at the entrance and exits of resident halls. The views from these cameras, which may have their own IP addresses, could be web-accessible. "Students might be able to see someone walking upstairs," says Donaldson. In this way, students, themselves, can become the eyes and ears for campus security.


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