Maurice Tyler, CIO and Vice President of IT at Bowie State University, partnered with the school’s public safety and facilities management departments on developing a campuswide physical security strategy.

Nov 17 2023

Eliminating Gaps in Physical Security Coverage to Improve Campus Safety

Colleges are modernizing their video surveillance systems to better monitor and protect their campuses.

Thieves, vandals and other criminals looking for easy prey may want to leave Bowie State University off their list of potential targets.

The Maryland institution, recognized regularly for its innovation and as a leader among historically Black colleges and universities, is in the midst of a campuswide initiative focused on modernizing its video surveillance system.

Phase one of the project, completed earlier this year, involved the installation of about 200 cameras to cover the entrance and exit points of every building on BSU’s grounds. The devices are connected through Verkada’s Command platform, a cloud-based video management system (VMS) providing single-pane-of-glass monitoring capabilities.

The impetus for the deployment, says Maurice Tyler, CIO and vice president of IT at the college, was a security incident reported both to his department and to the campus police. It was early 2021, and he had only recently assumed his position. He thought it was odd that his office was called for what appeared to be a non-IT matter.

“When I peeled back the onion,” Tyler says, “I learned that we had all of these disparate security systems, and nothing was connected together.” Over the years, various BSU buildings and facilities had invested in cameras on their own. Now, these devices were aging, their software was missing or lost, and there was no clear record anywhere of how the systems worked.

CASE STUDY: Learn more about how Bowie State developed a cohesive physical security strategy. 

Realizing the situation was unsustainable, Tyler scheduled a meeting with leaders from the BSU Office of Facilities Management and the Department of Public Safety. They all agreed it was time to take a more strategic approach to campus surveillance, and he volunteered to head the project.

Working closely with the chief of police, Tyler began by assessing what the school had. In some cases, they determined that devices should simply be removed and replaced. In others, they decided that they should be repositioned.

Today, as the project progresses to phase two, Tyler notes that the college is expanding camera coverage to interior spaces as well as parking lots and other outdoor areas. The school is also already enjoying the benefits of an integrated system that offers what he describes as a “God’s-eye view” of the BSU campus.

Now, he explains, the BSU police can monitor every inch of covered ground while stationed in the command center. The platform also allows police to track camera views while inside their vehicles, and it includes features such as face recognition technology and tools for night vision and license plate scanning.

Similarly, Tyler says, the Verkada system has made life easier for his IT team. Because the platform is hosted in the cloud, there’s no worry about software upgrades and patching. Since all of the cameras now feed to one place, the team knows immediately where to make hardware fixes.

Not long ago, he recalls, someone stole a computer monitor from one of the university’s conference rooms. Back at the command center, the police were alerted, and they quickly brought up the relevant cameras. Soon, they were tracking the perpetrator across campus, and they eventually moved in for an arrest.

“They had face recognition, timelines, everything they needed,” Tyler says. “The person never had a chance.”

57%

The percentage of higher ed institutions looking to update or replace their video surveillance systems

Source: Campus Safety, 2022 Video Surveillance Deep Dive Survey, November 2022

Technology Is a ‘Force Multiplier’ for Campus Security

With universities often embedded in communities and few barriers in place between schools and the public, physical security is an ongoing issue at many institutions. Reported criminal incidents on campus grounds have become less common in recent years, but violence, theft and vandalism are still prevalent and remain top concerns for college law enforcement.

Campus police departments “are focused on two things,” says Paul Dean, president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators and chief of police and associate vice president for public safety and risk management at the University of New Hampshire. “First, can you prevent crime from happening? And then, if you can’t prevent it, how quickly can you respond to resolve it?”

Institutions with video surveillance systems often do well on both fronts, Dean says. When placed properly, cameras can be an effective deterrent to crime, and they can provide critical information to authorities if a crime does take place.

“Camera technology is a force multiplier,” he explains. “Nobody has enough officers. But that camera in the parking lot that’s on all the time, that never sleeps and is picking up information? That’s going to make your campus safer.”

Saddleback College Assistant Chief of Police Lt. Mike Betzler agrees. The community college in suburban Mission Viejo, Calif., uses multiview Advidia and Panasonic i-Pro cameras in conjunction with Video Insight video management software.

At last count, Saddleback had more than 400 cameras installed in and around the 50-plus buildings on its 200-acre campus, Betzler says. Like Bowie State, Saddleback focused on coverage of ingress and egress points, public interior spaces, and campus parking lots. The Video Insight platform is fully integrated with the cameras and with the college’s electronic access control system. And because each device can provide up to four different views simultaneously, they allow the police department to efficiently track activity while keeping down infrastructure costs.

“Just one camera at an intersection in a hallway gives us coverage in every direction,” Betzler says. “From our perspective, we’re improving safety and security, but we’re also being fiscally responsible.”

Maurice Tyler headshot
They had face recognition, timelines, everything they needed. The person never had a chance.”

Maurice Tyler CIO and Vice President of IT, Bowie State University

Simplicity Helps Physical Security Systems Operate Efficiently

Salt Lake Community College in Salt Lake City is also watching its bottom line.

The college replaced its fleet of aging analog devices with high-definition Axis cameras and Milestone’s XProtect VMS, says Security Surveillance Operations Manager Nathan Howard. Today, across 10 metro-area campuses, SLCC has more than 980 cameras providing Howard and his team nearly 2,400 distinct views.

The installation allowed the college to eliminate dozens of small recording servers previously housed in multiple data closets, Howard says.

“There was some cost involved with rewiring, but now our cameras are networked together and come back to a central storage unit in our data center,” he says. Today, the school has fewer cameras than it did previously, which has greatly reduced licensing fees, yet the new technology offers more visibility than ever.

“It’s a huge upgrade,” Howard says. “It took a lot to get everything up and running, but it’s so much better. There’s no comparison.”

Beyond the broader coverage, key areas of improvement include higher-quality resolution, infrared sensors, and remote focusing and maintenance capabilities. Two-way audio communication is also possible on certain cameras through attachments for compatible speakers and microphones.

Howard says the new system has proved its worth on many occasions. In one instance, officials caught an employee pilfering items from desks in an empty office after hours. In another, a thief who’d stolen catalytic converters from cars in a campus parking lot was captured on video soon after a camera was installed at the site.

SLCC is expanding, Howard notes, and that means considering new device placements. The good news is that planning and wiring is relatively simple in new construction. He also doesn’t need to shop around; he’s happy with his vendors and their technologies.

“I have my favorites, and I know what they can do, so the rest is pretty straightforward,” he says.

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Photography by Chris Gunn
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