Sounding the Alarm on Inefficient Campus Security

A college campus is one of the most challenging environments to keep safe. Many campuses span several hundred acres and are made up of a variety of different indoor and outdoor spaces, including classrooms, dorms, parking garages, courtyards, and stadiums.

Colleges also have significant student, faculty and staff populations, along with large numbers of visitors, particularly for sporting events and concerts.

Because of this complex environment, campuses face a wide range of threats. These include physical threats such as mass shootings, virtual threats such as the hacking of systems with sensitive student information, and even natural disasters. While incident prevention is always a top priority, making people feel safe and in control can be even more powerful.

Controlling the Chaos

Universities have invested millions of dollars in various security technologies to prevent these complex threats: video surveillance, access control door locks and alarms, blue light systems, motion detection sensors, mass alert systems, and more.

The education sector within the security equipment and services market reached $2.7 billion in revenue in 2017, according to an analysis by IHS Markit. Despite advancements in the level of security used in educational institutions, however, the number of mass shootings in U.S. schools has remained relatively constant over the past 30 years.

One of the reasons that schools are failing to see a return on their security investments is that most of the solutions on the market only do one job well and are designed solely for either alert or action. In fact, many of today’s security solutions are “mass alert systems.”

Unfortunately, when a mass alert system is triggered, it is rarely the same system needed to take action on the problem. When a door alarm goes off, for example, the system doesn’t automatically turn on all the lights in the building or lock nearby doors. Instead, human interaction is required to receive an alert from one system and activate another system to initiate a response.

By connecting security assets, campuses can potentially cut back on the number of alerting systems and cut back on the manpower required to take action.

Connecting the Data

The disconnect between alert and action can make all the difference when it comes to campus safety. The solution lies in integrating security technologies so that action can be taken as soon as alerts are received. By connecting the data from point solutions, campuses can not only respond to incidents faster and more intelligently, but they can also move from reactive to proactive problem resolution.

Take the following scenario: A student is walking alone on campus at night. She feels uneasy. She thinks someone is following her. Well, they might be following her. Or are they just heading in the same direction? Does she call 911? She’s uncomfortable, but she also doesn’t want to make a scene.

Traditionally, a conflicted student has two options: do nothing and hope for the best, or call 911 and run the risk of embarrassing a fellow, presumably innocent, student.

On a connected campus, this student could use her mobile phone to trigger a “soft” alarm to alert campus security of her location and her concerns. Security operations could then initiate an immediate and coordinated response.

For example, by integrating their systems, operations could locate and task the nearest security officer, activate nearby lights, access camera feeds, and create an impromptu ‘safe place’ by remotely unlocking a closed building for the student. Simultaneously, the nearest security officer can text or chat directly with the student and can even use telestration to draw out directions to the open building.

In this scenario, the student is empowered and feels more in control. The security response is proactive and efficient because time is not lost accessing multiple systems and communicating through different channels. Instead, the systems are integrated, and the team shares a common operational picture.

A Common Operational Picture

Integrating existing security solutions and people provides a common operational picture that gives campus security teams a clear view of any incident under their command.

An operational picture extends command and control to the very edge of security operations. From executives to officers, everyone is empowered with the information they need to make faster, more informed decisions.

Data is delivered to users in real-time and in the context of their locations and roles, eliminating precious time spent receiving, interpreting and disseminating information.

Power of the Crowd

By connecting students directly to security and empowering them to trigger soft alarms, campuses can multiply the effectiveness of their security operations.

One of the biggest opportunities for connected campuses is to leverage the power of the crowd. Connecting data from various point solutions is crucial, but the most powerful sensors a campus has are its students, faculty, and staff.

With thousands of roaming, highly intelligent, sensors waiting for anomalies in the environment to trigger a “mental alarm,” there is no smarter alternative to notice when something is out of place.

Building for the Future

A connected campus needs to be secure today and tomorrow.

Security operations need the flexibility to add new technology and new users over time. Campuses are turning to security software platforms for this flexibility. Platforms extend the value of their existing technology and make the adoption of new systems both easy and efficient. An adaptable platform allows security operations to focus on the safety of its campus and not on the integration of new technology.


The very nature of a college campus makes it one of the most complex environments to secure. While schools are spending millions on security solutions, data shows these investments are doing little to keep students safe.

The problem is that there is an increasing array of single-function security systems in the market today. These point solutions do one job well, but they are designed solely for either alert or action.

The answer for today’s campuses lies in integrating existing security technologies so that action can be taken as soon as alerts are received. By connecting the data from various point solutions with the people in disparate locations into a common operational picture, campuses can not only respond to incidents faster and more intelligently, but they can also move from reactive to proactive problem resolution.

About the Author
John Dames is Chief Technology Officer
for Coolfire Solutions. Dames has spent the past eight years of his career helping concept and develop solutions for customers including Tier 1 Special Operations Forces as well as Public Safety and Security Teams.