College security: Detection alert!

Why some institutions are adopting video analytics technology for smarter surveillance

For nearly a decade, video analytics has been considered the next big thing in campus security. But the surveillance technology, also known as video content analysis, is just beginning to catch the eye of higher ed security administrators.

Certainly these systems—where software provides automatic monitoring of video feeds and triggers alerts for follow-up by security staff—have much to offer.

The detection and analysis has become more sophisticated, and surveillance cameras have increased power to monitor indoor and outdoor locations across campus at any time, day or night.

Sidebar: Providers on how colleges can overcome roadblocks to adopting video analytics

Where security officers once might have strained to make out a grainy night-time image on a monitor, now they can clearly see license plates, facial features and other details important to preventing or solving crimes.

Motion detection analytics systems can pick up on an out-of-place object, such as a backpack left in an empty hallway, or movement in a classroom that should be empty because it’s 3 a.m. Sound capture features will alert officers to breaking glass, gunshots or people falling.

Alerts from video analytics systems reach security via visual or audible notifications sent to handheld devices or a communications center.

Sidebar: Addressing the privacy question

Despite such advances, colleges have been slow to adopt this technology. That’s due to both the costs and product capabilities, says Roland Feijoo, executive vice president of IoT solutions at CompuCom, which provides IT services to corporations and organizations worldwide.

“The technology advances are recent and still have some maturing to do. And the cost of upgrading versus keeping a currently operational video surveillance system can be intimidating.”

Given sufficient size and complexity, a new system may cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Yet, when the necessary resources are dedicated, early adopters are finding analytics to be worth the investment. And as existing cameras are replaced due to normal aging, video analytics can be a logical next step.

Technology as crime deterrent

Campus crime at California State University, Northridge has dropped since the installation of closed-circuit television and analytics in 2014, says Chief of Police Anne P. Glavin. The reduction includes a 60 percent drop in auto thefts, a common occurrence in the university’s Los Angeles neighborhood, in the year following implementation.

“People were stealing cars and breaking into cars,” she says.

Now crime waves are more likely to occur off campus. Use of the system has allowed officers to stop some crimes in progress thanks to the alerts, while solving others more readily through analysis of captured video (since it offers greater detail than traditional cameras).

In addition, the highly visible placement of cameras, along with prominent signage with warnings about video surveillance, seems to have had a chilling effect on would-be criminals.

Glavin points out that while campus auto thefts and vandalisms have been reduced significantly, rates for the same crimes continue to be high in nearby neighborhoods.

“The bad guys are being told they are on camera, and car thefts or break-ins stop before they start,” she says.

The alerts offered by analytics serve as a security force multiplier in preventing or solving a variety of crimes, including sexual assaults, she adds. “We didn’t have to add personnel. I wanted technology to do the work. I don’t expect my dispatchers to stare at cameras.”

The added sense of security provided by round-the-clock monitoring makes the technology well worth it, Glavin says. “It makes the campus community feel better.”

Extra layer of detection

At The University of Tulsa, cameras positioned near a women’s residence hall trigger alerts whenever a vehicle enters the parking lot between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Security dispatchers then view the scene on a monitor and determine whether action is needed.

If the driver appears to be a student, they can watch to make sure that student enters the dorm safely. If the driver is clearly not a student, they can watch for suspicious behavior and, if necessary, send officers to the scene.

The system, which includes over 300 networked cameras that replaced older analog models, is also proving valuable during investigations.

“Instead of spending hours searching through footage, we can now let the software do that for us with high accuracy,” says Michael Killer, assistant director of security technologies. “Along with speeding up the investigative process, the use of analytics frees staff to focus on other areas of campus security.”

Another attractive feature of video content analysis is the flexibility to adapt to the situation at hand.

“Video analytics helps to increase the security posture of an institution by providing an extra layer of observation and detection across a vast array of options,” says Jonathan Kassa, director of higher education for Allied Universal, a Pennsylvania-based national security services company.

Options range from license plate readers and geo-fencing, where a virtual geographic boundary is established, to remote video monitoring and audio interfaces.

Wider campus use ahead

As colleges continue to expand their camera inventories—and upgrade or replace existing units—more institutions are likely to explore analytics, predicts Larry Consalvos, president of Princeton, NJ-based IXP Corp., which provides technology services to industries throughout North America.

Given the capabilities of CCTV to not only provide high-resolution, continuous footage but to also employ sophisticated software, the move to this technology may be inevitable.

“As more campuses use CCTV, they’re going to have to use analytics,” he says. “Otherwise, the workload becomes onerous.”

Glavin of Cal State, Northridge agrees that video analytics is destined to become more widespread.

“Some may feel you can’t afford it,” she says. “I think you can’t afford not to.”

The human dimension should not be overlooked in realizing the full potential of new technology, says Eric Piza, an assistant professor of criminal justice at John Jay College who has conducted research on video surveillance in public safety.

He believes well-trained camera operators and responding police officers are the driving force behind successful programs. “A video analytics system is not a physical barrier preventing someone from committing a crime,” he says. “A human actor needs to actively use the intelligence gained from such programs to promote public safety.”

Mark Rowh is a Virginia-based writer.


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