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Articles: Security

After the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15, emergency response teams at Boston-area colleges had to act fast. Between reaching out to the community and accounting for students and faculty running or attending the race, institutions had much to contend with that day.

Managers from Boston College, Suffolk University, and the University of Massachusetts, Boston shared their experiences during a recent online forum aimed at helping administrators across the country learn about their actions in the wake of the tragedy.

As the rest of world gets on with their lives, those of us who call Massachusetts home are reminded daily of why the Bay State has always been Boston Strong. Speaking at a national interfaith service after the Marathon bombings, President Obama remarked, “We may be momentarily knocked off our feet. But we’ll pick ourselves up. We’ll keep going.

What will be the future NFC smartphone technology landscape on college and university campuses?

“The whole idea is that anything you can do today with a key or a card, tomorrow you will be able to do that with your phone,” points out Jeremy Earles, a product marketing manager at Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies, which partnered with Villanova University (Pa.) on its advancing NFC smartphone installation.

If NFC smartphone dreams come true this year as hoped, for many schools it will simply be a matter of turning the technology up on their existing card readers. Indeed, the use of smartphones enabled by near field communication is happening on some campuses and is a near-term reality for others.

NFC is a technology currently in use with many campus card systems to enable access control and transactions to pay for food, laundry, and other services. The trouble with the cards is that they are easily lost or forgotten and just aren’t as handy.

Planning to implement a biometric system on campus? Phil Scarfo, a vice president at Lumidigm, a  New Mexico-based biometric company, recommends the following actions:

Iris Recongition

When it comes to access on college and university campuses, striking a balance has always posed a challenge. On the one hand is the need to limit access to those authorized to have it, whether that means students who have paid for dining services or faculty accessing labs or other facilities. On the other is the desire to make the process as efficient and user-friendly as possible. Old standards such as traditional door locks and plastic ID cards still serve their roles, but as with virtually every aspect of modern life, technology is bringing new opportunities.

Situations promoting campus alerts can be disruptive, but also informative. The University at Buffalo’s Joseph Brennan recalls an incident where a student reported seeing a man enter the campus library while carrying what appeared to be a rifle. Immediately upon hearing the report, officials issued an alert using the university’s system from Rave Mobile Safety. Recipients of the message were advised to stay away from the area, and the building was searched.

In an era when higher education leaders are more mindful than ever of potential threats to the safety of those living, learning, and working on campus, security planning has reached new levels of complexity. Few would argue that at least some security measures should be highly visible to the campus community. Just as in society at large (think of the police cruiser parked in the median of a busy highway), the right level of visibility can prevent campus crime or violence.

The search-based filtering techniques used by social media monitoring tools rely on spotting a specific set of keywords, including the name of the school. Since people can make valid threats using words outside that list, monitoring tools could never identify threats comprehensively.

In the wake of the Colorado movie theater shooting and noting the social media clues that appeared beforehand, college and university leaders are taking threats of violence posted to social media very seriously.

Case in point: Kent State University (Ohio) charged 19-year-old student William Koberna with a felony charge of inducing panic and a misdemeanor charge of aggravated menacing for tweeting, “I’m shooting up your school ASAP” and threats to the college president. Koberna’s tweets came five days after the Colorado massacre.

Over the last few years, high-profile laboratory incidents at major institutions have made front-page headlines. The latest resulting in the death of a graduate student at UCLA, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Department of Justice’s (DOJ’s) decision to pursue criminal charges against both UCLA and the individual principal investigator (PI) in charge of the lab. The UCLA tragedy and another high profile accident at Texas Tech University (which also resulted in casualties) have altered the way OSHA is approaching enforcement in research lab settings.

Changes are coming to colleges and universities as administrators look to increase efficiencies in the way campuses are secured and building operations are managed.

Today’s campus security director already has his or her hands full keeping pace with new facilities and a growing student population. As security takes on increased importance, campuses are adding more surveillance cameras, access control, intrusion, fire alarms, visitor management, emergency notification systems, intercoms and other equipment.

The House and Senate have been working to come to an agreement on the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2012. If passed, the House version of legislation will give the director for the office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) within the Department of Justice the authority to establish a National Center for Campus Public Safety.

As in any community, there will always be incidents of crime on campus. While the cause is unknown, in many categories of campus crime, the number of arrests went down between 2007 and 2009. Add unified security systems to the mix, and response to crime can be swifter and the number of victims can potentially be minimized even further.

The university’s unified security initiative­—which is helping to ensure that information quickly reaches students, faculty, and staff anywhere on campus so that they can take appropriate action—is being implemented by Director of Emergency Management Scott G. Burnotes. His team took advantage of campus fire alarms and their ability to be used to communicate in any type of emergency.

When Scott G. Burnotes arrived at the University of Miami, he found multiple, separate systems for emergency notifications. A third-party vendor handled texting, emailing, and phone calls; sirens had been set up around campus; and some web-based notifications were utilized.

“Their focus was on continuing to build a multimodal method of communication for all types of emergencies,” recalls Burnotes, Miami’s director of emergency management.

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