Surveillance lessons from the higher education sector

Surveillance lessons from the higher education sector

Dennis Choi, General Manager, IDIS Middle East & Africa, explains how universities are turning to more capable and flexible video solutions.

Just like any large institution, Middle East universities are susceptible to crimes including theft, vandalism and assault. Ensuring the safety of students, staff and property is a constant challenge. And of course, universities the world over can be the targets for more serious attacks, due to the concentration of people and their symbolic value. They can also be vulnerable to protests and civil unrest, which can disrupt university life and pose safety risks to students and staff.

Today, more Middle East countries are encouraging and welcoming women on to their campuses, which makes it more important for security teams to remain vigilant to the potential of gender-based harassment. Preparedness for more frequent extreme weather events and hard-to-predict natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, and dust storms also necessitate emergency planning and infrastructure resilience.

In many cases, campuses have multiple access points and relatively soft perimeters. And sometimes facilities are dispersed in busy urban locations which makes them harder to demarcate.

Adding to the challenges, universities have large populations with a significant annual turnover, and there are often frequent visitors to be managed, including visiting academics, family members and friends of students, as well, of course, as all the staff and contractors who keep the institutions running.

Key role for video

Not surprisingly, video surveillance is playing a key role in security in education, helping to get the protective balance right. Video systems are being upgraded to give better image quality and more complete coverage, and this is supporting control room teams who monitor events in realtime, and use better emergency response, personal alert and communications technologies to ensure that rapid support can be provided for anyone who needs it. And these system upgrades are giving universities better results, more affordably, than in the past. They are delivering HD image quality regardless of lighting conditions, including complete darkness, or fluctuating extremes of light and shade; ensuring coverage without blind spots, across wide areas or focused on particular risk points.

The upgraded systems are easier to use, both for real-time monitoring and review, with the latest VMS giving operators smoother and easier controls, AI-powered analytics and mobile viewing and management options that support busy managers and teams on the move.

Affordability and long-term value

They also meet the requirement for affordability and long-term system value, including easy upgrade routes that allow existing equipment and infrastructure to be retained as part of modernised solutions; low operating costs and maintenance burden; and fair pricing structures without hidden licence fees or bundled-in charges for functions that are not used.

And, increasingly today, they offer AI-futureproofing. Universities are looking for the best analytics adoption models, including software, and more targeted options such as edge AI cameras or add-on devices. This is allowing them to harness artificial intelligence video tools, with obstacles, as they identify emerging benefits and potential for improving efficiency and surveillance effectiveness. For example, in one recent application in Türkiye, IDIS video technology is being used to provide the backbone security infrastructure for an international university with facilities dispersed across a busy city centre. It’s a site that also benefits from a thriving night-time economy – a further attraction for students at many universities – but of course that brings with it an increased risk of incidents, including crime and anti-social behaviour.

Tackling accumulated complexity

In this case, the security team monitors the various locations from a 24/7 dedicated control room, using a 350-camera system. However, at the point when IDIS became involved, the system had already been expanded several times, and by now comprised a mix of cameras from six different manufacturers. The VMS being used was struggling to control these multiple brands; pictures would often freeze, and the solution had an excessive video data storage burden.

This kind of complexity, with assorted video infrastructure accumulated over time, is a common problem. In this case IDIS Solution Suite (ISS) VMS was used to quickly register the mix of cameras and devices, including third-party DVRs, two Dell recorders, various analogue HD cameras, and a three-by-three-metre video wall. This integration allowed smoother and more streamlined control, which was not possible with the old VMS.

Improved control room operations

Security staff can control today’s systems from their workstations as well as from video walls, with browser features allowing fire systems, and other key, systems, to display on the same screens. Schematics can show the locations of the cameras on maps and floorplans, to improve domain awareness across complex sites and make navigational playback faster and easier. And it’s now easier for universities to achieve more complete site coverage, using a choice of Fisheyes, mini-PTZs, and domes which give affordable options for both wide area coverage and targeted scene surveillance. Today’s cameras can also cope better with the challenges that universities sometimes throw up – for example, historic buildings where major structural modifications are not permitted.

Managing recorded video

When this footage needs to be reviewed, bookmarked event recording makes it easy for operators to skip from scene to scene when searching recordings. And today’s deep learning analytics can take search capabilities a step further, leveraging metadata for even faster, automated footage review with tools that can speed up investigations from hours and weeks to mere minutes. Finally, systems are now easier and more affordable to expand. Today’s more powerful NVRs allow more cameras to be easily added, while increased storage capacity will ensure longer retention periods without increasing storage costs thanks to H.265 combined with the latest advanced compression technologies.

Extended concepts of risk

No two university sites are the same, but most share the problems of complex facilities to watch over with legacy video infrastructure that will sooner or later need modernising. As universities extend the concept of ‘risk’ to cover not just the physical safety of students and staff, but also their wellbeing, there’s a greater understanding that young people living away from home for the first time in unfamiliar surroundings, sometimes in a new culture and speaking a second language, can be at risk, and that institutions have a duty of care towards them. The ability to streamline and extend the life of ageing systems, to make them easy to use, get them delivering HD video, and enhancing them with the latest AIpowered analytics tools, offers significant advantages in addressing these risks, as well as reducing both costs and waste.