Combined Security Solutions Provide Comprehensive Security

Protecting students and staff in campus settings has become a national priority in the United States, with nearly half a billion dollars in grant money provided to school districts to upgrade their security since the adoption of the STOP School Violence Act of 2018.

The investment in school security, involving both the K-12 and the higher education market, has been considerable to say the least, as security professionals work to fortify on-campus security. This has included installing surveillance systems that can monitor outdoor common areas and parking lots, securing building entrances with mantraps coupled with intercoms for reliable two-way communication, replacing college dormitory keys with keycards, and implementing campus-wide access control systems that can be used to manage building access for faculty and students.

As school security continues to improve, so does the diversification of solutions implemented, integrated, and leveraged with existing systems. Access control systems, emergency towers, and intercoms can all be seamlessly integrated with surveillance to provide a comprehensive, layered school security program.

Enhanced Communication at Entry Points
Many campuses have moved away from an open front door environment where visitors and delivery personnel could freely walk into the lobby. Administrators can now incorporate locked entrances where people can only enter the building after initially being vetted by the front desk staff.

Implementing two-way intercom systems at the entrance provides an important first layer of protection and can enable front desk personnel to not only talk to someone who would like to enter, but also clearly see the person when the system includes an integrated IP video camera.

The ability to see, hear, and talk to the person is invaluable to staff and school security. Faculty can quickly determine if the person is who they say they are, check credentials using the video camera, and see if the person is agitated or carrying a weapon.

It is important to ensure that teaching staff have access to security tools and can easily communicate with the appropriate people. In the event of an emergency, school staff can trigger a lockdown event while alerting school personnel and law enforcement. When an intercom system is installed in classrooms and lecture halls, it enables a professor to reliably call for help without having to worry about a poor cellular phone signal.

A panic button on an intercom station in the room can be pre-programmed to contact on-campus security if a student or teacher experiences a medical issue or if a person in class poses a threat to themselves or others.

Many intercoms also come equipped with paging capabilities. This means that an intercom station can be used to send direct communication into classrooms, hallways, or lecture halls if a threatening situation unfolds, such as a major weather event or an active-shooter occurrence.

Pre-programmed and recorded messages can give students and staff directions on what to do next, such as shelter in place, relocate to a secured location, or evacuate the premises immediately, improving school operations. These messages can also be set to be repeated every few minutes, ensuring the message is heard and that everyone within an educational building on campus receives the same consistent information.

Better Management of Staff, Students, Visitors
It is important to know who is visiting your school. It is equally important to implement an access-control program for staff and students too. Access control enables staff or security to easily track who is coming and going and provide secure access at authorized entrance points. In the event of a school employee being terminated, a school district can quickly deactivate the access control credential to remove access privileges without interrupting access for other staff members.

Visitors, meanwhile, can be provided with a badge that allows them to access certain areas or wings within a building. An access-control credential can also be pre-programmed for a set duration, so that when a visitor does not swipe out by a certain time, an administrator can be alerted.

Overall, intercoms and access-control systems can provide valuable data on all individuals, whether they are an employee, delivery person, or visitor.

An integrated video intercom system can automatically record the interaction between a visitor outside pressing a button to request access and the person responsible for granting access. The access-control component, which requires a person to present a badge to a reader to enter an area, can also record access-point data, showing exactly where they went in the building.

Dormitory Use
Perhaps the biggest change with security technology being used on college campuses is taking place within college dormitories, where traditional locks and keysets are being replaced with electronic locks and an all-in-one keycard that can be used to enter a student’s dorm room. The same keycard can also allow access to eat in the campus dining hall or check out a book in the library.

While dormitory access has become more secure over the past decade, one thing that hasn’t changed is the need for students or visitors to have a secure and reliable method to communicate with the front desk staff at a residence hall.

Due to additional school security measures, many residence hall doors remain locked 24/7. This can make it difficult for a visitor to interact with anyone in the building unless the front desk is fully staffed or that individual has the proper access-control credential to enter through the front door.

An IP intercom station can be placed on the exterior of a dormitory or within a vestibule area, ensuring that visitors have a way to contact the resident assistant on duty or someone in the security office should they need to request access into the building.
For students, the added benefit of an intercom system outside their dormitory is the ability to easily reach campus support staff should they arrive at their residence hall and find their keycard is missing or not functional.

A two-way video and audio intercom system also provides an additional layer of school security for staff, by providing visual verification of the visitor. Dormitory staff can use a two-way video intercom system to confirm a person’s identity, whether the person is a food delivery driver or an individual whose access to a particular building has been restricted. This can help to quickly determine if the person is who they say they are or check identification credentials using the video camera.

Securing Parking Lots and Outdoor Spaces
Security in parking lots often presents one of the biggest challenges for campus and school security. For colleges and universities, this is especially true because parking facilities, whether surface parking lots or parking garages, are often vast in size and can be located quite a distance away from educational buildings on campus.

Emergency parking towers, equipped with intercom systems, can be strategically placed throughout parking lots and parking garages, providing an additional layer of school security, especially in emergency situations. If a student does not feel safe walking to their vehicle after a class late at night, an emergency parking tower can be quickly used to directly speak with on-campus security staff or to request an escort.

Including a video intercom allows campus and school security staff to see the student requesting assistance. This can provide critical identification when staff arrive on-site.

As these towers are tall and equipped with a light beacon on top, they are easy to locate even at night. Additionally, these well-lit towers can act as a crime deterrent by presenting a secured and monitored environment to would-be criminals. Since emergency towers are hardwired, each tower provides a secure and highly reliable method of communication even in areas where cell phone coverage may be spotty.

Many parking garages are also maze-like structures, which can make it difficult for a person to clearly communicate their specific location. Intercoms with built-in mapping mean that the specific location of a wall box is shared with security personnel when an emergency-communication button is pushed. This helps to ensure that responders are dispatched to the correct location.

When a video intercom system is located inside a parking garage, it allows a campus or school security officer to clearly hear and speak with the individual who is calling about an emergency. An optional overhead camera can provide a bird’s-eye view of the area around the person in distress as compared to the identifying view of the intercom.

Intercoms, emergency towers/wall boxes, and access control systems help enhance campus and school security, manage building access, and provide a valuable means of communication in the event of an emergency.

The reality is that educational institutions are prone to unexpected events. The addition of these solutions will strengthen the efficacy of any comprehensive school security system and can help protect students, faculty, and visitors during emergencies. University security has made significant advancements over the past few decades thanks to continuous investments in technology. Ensuring the safety of individuals on a college campus remains an ongoing concern that necessitates regular reviews of the technologies deployed and the maintenance of best practices in building safety and access policies.

About the Author
Brad has been with Aiphone over thirty years. He uses innovative methods to promote and inform industry peers about Aiphone's vast intercom portfolio, award-winning quality processes, and unparalleled customer service teams. Long-time experience has helped shape his view of the security industry and become knowledgeable of its trends.