The 'Other' Campus Security

Ask Bob Lashaway at Montana State University about his greatest security concern on the Bozeman campus and he’ll tell you that it may be faculty and student negligence.

The director of facilities services at a campus with a population of 12,000 students, Lashaway said: “We have to continually remind people to keep the doors to secure areas closed, instead of propping them open when they wander down the hall. When they don’t, we occasionally hear about the theft of a cell phone or, in a worse case, a laptop computer.”

Ask Asa Boyton, vice president of security preparedness at the University of Georgia, and you’ll get an entirely different answer. “In my opinion, the greatest risk to people is a biological attack on crops, food, water and air,” Boyton said He is also concerned about “the possibility of a suicide bomber.”

Jack Dowling, former director of safety and security at Philadelphia University and now a consulting security programs specialist, added a third dimension.

“Our school is in a residential area, an unlikely target for terrorists. However, it is close enough to downtown Philadelphia that we are concerned about protecting 3,000 students, half of whom live in residence halls, with the possibility of airborne contaminants. We have built shelters that provide students with a safe place.”

With less concern for biological terrorism at his site, his focus is on security in residence halls. “In those buildings, a person in the reception area monitors access to the building. Then, students and visitors must have a key card to access hallways, and a third for living quarters. Egress at windows and doors is controlled by alarms that alert the security staff.”

Campus security has historically taken a back seat to an institution’s primary goal of educating students. In the environment of the 1950s, panty raids were high on the list of potential threats. By the ’60s, campus unrest took on a more serious tone, and the cop on the beat often faced groups protesting the Vietnam War or racial segregation.

A major change in the environment occurred in the 1980s with the rape and murder of a coed in her dormitory room that resulted in the institution being successfully sued for negligence. A byproduct was Congressional passage of what is now called the Jeanne Clery Act, which requires institutions to report crimes that were typically kept in a skeleton closet to protect student identities and the institution’s reputation. The law also requires schools to establish and publish their security program for potential enrollees. The legislation accelerated the replacement of aging lock systems with modern devices.

“The result is that we have the same, or better, security devices in place at the university than are found in many hotels and public buildings,” said Vincent DeCerchio, director of public safety at Bucknell University.

Opportunities for electrical contractors are now in abundance as administrators scramble to retrofit existing structures and include security devices in plans for new construction.

For Boynton, preventive measures include retrofitting with new access control devices and physical and security checks.

“Since the university has a strong agriculture research program, it could be a target for someone attempting to spread an infectious disease,” he said. Video surveillance helps, as do motion detectors. New construction designs include varying security levels depending a structure’s eventual use, and centralization of high risk areas. “We also need real-time notification of intruders and immediate response, all of which will be provided electronically,” he added.

At Clemson University, Director of Utilities Jeff Hinson said: “Sept. 11 really opened our eyes to possible risks if we didn’t change our attitude. The presence of a cop on the beat used to be a deterrent to crime. Then came video surveillance, which allowed us to improve physical security without interfering with feeling of openness. Now, residence halls are being retrofitted with card access on all exterior doors, and we are considering use of a proximity card.”

The campus infrastructure is going wireless in many other ways as well. Students are using laptop computers with wireless technology, and copper wiring is slowly going away. The contractor who stays up to date in the information technology infrastructure and security systems is going to have an advantage because the technology is evolving rapidly.

“I’d advise a contractor to meet with us during the design phase, to give input and teach us about the new-age technology that is becoming part of the ordinary hardware specifications,” Lang said.

Dowling said: “The keys for the electrical contractor are lighting systems, electronic locking systems, intrusion alarms, video surveillance, and electronic access card controls and touchpads.”

It is unlikely that Lashaway will be making huge purchases of electronic devices in the near future. But from all appearances, the odds of finding new work at most urban campuses are on the rise. EC


Stay Informed Join our Newsletter

Having trouble finding time to sit down with the latest issue of
ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR? Don't worry, we'll come to you.