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University of Windsor integrates IP video cameras into emergency management

The University of Windsor, Ont., is turning an investment in fighting crime into a tool to help manage disasters.
The school’s Campus Community Police this year deployed the first phase of an extensive surveillance system, using IP-based CCTV video cameras from Axis Communications, across its campus and is closely tying them to two new software applications as part of a new emergency management system.



July 3, 2008
By Lawrence Cummer

Chris Zelezney oversees emergency management for the University of
Windsor’s Campus Community Police. He says the CCTV video cameras, of
which there are currently 44, run across the university’s existing
fibre-optic IP network and will enable the campus police to closely
monitor emergency evacuation routes and security deployment areas, plus
the more traditional application of curtailing campus crime.

While tightly secured for exclusive access by campus authorities, the
cameras can be monitored and controlled from any PC inside or outside
the school.

Detailed crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) studies
were used to determine optimal locations and select cameras based on
various technology requirements. This resulted in a mix of fixed,
pan-tilt, wired and wireless video cameras, with various capabilities
for low-light.

The Campus Community Police worked with Hamilton, Ont.-based systems integrator AATEL Communications Inc. to
choose and deploy the surveillance cameras and Zelezney says they were
impressed by the Axis cameras’ picture capabilities. He recalled a
sporting event in which he put the camera’s sights to the test.

“The quality on some of these cameras is so good that we had one of our
officers on the field with a program in his hand and I was able to read
the program using the camera, which was several stories up and at least
500 feet away. The technologies that are emerging now with CCTV cameras
are fantastic.”

In light of recent violent crime at post-secondary schools, like the
2006 Dawson College shooting or last year’s Virginia Tech massacre,
many universities are looking for ways to ramp up their emergency
preparedness, and the University of Windsor is no exception. It was
with this in mind that the school deployed the new video cameras, but
also chose to integrate them with new mass notification and long-term
emergency management systems. He says the goal is to unify emergency
management and to support redundancy in the event of an incident.

The university could rely on the disaster response and emergency
management capabilities of the local police and other emergency
services, but that could put it 72 hours behind if a disaster did hit,
Zelezney says.
So the campus police recently conducted a survey of the staff and
students in residence and a comprehensive demographics study to
determine the best methods for emergency notification. They also did
extensive investigation to find the mass notification product that best
met their needs. Zelezney said they turned to MIR3 Emergency
Notification Software Services, because the service allowed the
university to safely secure the contact data retrieved from its
community in Canada and adhere with privacy standards and
confidentiality requirements.

For a new emergency management system, Zelezney noted that they needed
a solution that could manage resources around potential threats of
violence and crime, as well as natural disasters and acts of terrorism.
In addition, Zelezney says the university needed to be prepared to
manage more commonplace accidents like chemical spills.

“But, we have to make sure that we’re as able to respond in the same
effective and efficient way to an active shooter, as we are to a
pandemic, as we are to a tornado,” he adds.

The emergency management software the university chose was WebEOC
Crisis Information Management software, because of its ability to help
the emergency management team manage a crisis from start to finish as
well long-term recovery from it.

Zelezney says, like the IP-based surveillance systems, both MIR3 and
WebEOC are fully remotely accessible and wirelessly capable. Also
crucial, both are Web-based and neither is reliant on existing
university infrastructure, so that in the event of a power outage they
will remain online. The WebEOC application allows custom links to be
added into its interface, so both the video cameras and mass
notification tool can be accessed directly from the same browser page.


Although commonly used only as a means for crime prevention and
criminal deterrent, video cameras are becoming a serious tool in the
university’s kit for emergency preparedness.

“A lot of people who have a limited knowledge as to what a camera can
do look at them as shoplifting prevention… But, this really starts to
[change] the role of the camera from that traditional asset protection
role to that of public safety,” says Zelezney.

“This is the coming of an age where you’re actually taking the security
technologies and using them in the different ways that they can be used
now to serve a goal that ultimately, hopefully, will keep people safer.”
Over the summer the university’s campus police will be adding another
33 cameras in areas that were previously managed by student services
and 44 cameras split between two residences, according to Dave
Thompson, account manager for the University of Windsor at AATEL.

He
says that the only notable challenge in the deployment is ensuring that
the 121 new and pre-existing cameras are in place and functional by
September when classes begin. His team and the campus police must work
in lockstep to ensure timelines are met.

The University of Windsor is one of the few schools currently engaged
in a video surveillance system of this scope, according to AATEL’s
marketing manager Tammy Chaput. She says that while many universities
are currently looking at upgrading their existing security systems, a
project of this magnitude is more commonly found in municipal
environments.

Zelezney agrees, but notes that the lines between a university campus
and a municipality can be blurred. In preparing the university’s
emergency readiness programs over the last year, Zelezney says he had a
series of meetings with other emergency managers in the Essex County
region. During these meetings it became very clear that, with more than
18,000 students, staff and guests, the university was responsible for
the well-being and safety of more people than many of the nearby small
towns.

“Universities are starting to look at themselves more along the lines
of small towns, because we do have populations of that size — if you
look at an urban campus like ours — in small densely populated areas.
So we’ve had to take a look at ourselves in a different context than
how we’ve looked at ourselves for many years.”
The charge of protecting so many has made Zelezney passionate about the
project, of which he admits to spending his nights dreaming. AATEL’s
Thompson attributes the university’s proactive approach to security and
emergency management to that passion.

Future applications, enabled by IP video cameras and wireless
networking, further highlight this proactive manner. The university’s
campus police are currently in the process of building a “mobile
command post.” The plan is to stream video from the IP cameras over a
secured wireless video to a tricked-out truck that will act as a
front-line security command centre. They are currently investigating
SUVs to find one that is robust and large enough to handle their
requirements.

The vehicle will be equipped with Panasonic Toughbooks – ruggedized
laptop computers acting as mobile dispatch terminals. Through these
mobile PCs, the SUV security staff will be able to wirelessly connect
to the WebEOD application, access their reporting and dispatch
software, and receive and transmit video. The vehicle will be equipped
to handle all security and emergency management needs, both digitally
and physically, by housing necessary items like evacuation signs and
police tape. Finally, Zelezney adds, the vehicle will function as
another method of emergency notification, since it will be marked,
brightly lit, and will broadcast the university’s public address system.

He says the vehicle will allow front-line security teams to deal with a
crisis on the scene, while long-term emergency planners will be able to
provide them with all necessary information resources in real time from
remote locations.

“So everything [will be] there; it’s one-stop shopping. It’s right there, on the scene, at all times.”

While Zelezney admits that all the new security and emergency tools
make the university a more attractive target for new and visiting
students, it’s all about mitigating risk and getting in front of
potentially dangerous issues.

 “One of the Web people that’s on our implementation team for all these
things said to me, ‘you know, we’re doing a heck of a lot of work, and
I hope we never use it.’ That’s exactly right. We have to have all this
stuff and we have to use it in the test phase, and run the exercises…
to make sure that we’re ready at all times, but for a Dawson-like
emergency, I hope we never really have to use it.”