By Tony Bradberry
Jan 05, 2016
Campus safety is one of the top concerns for colleges across the country. The FBI's Uniform Crime Report and Clery Act Data identified 2,696 violent crime incidents and 87,160 crime incidents on and around college campuses in 2011, as reported by Business Insider. Given these statistics and as campuses and enrollment numbers continue to grow, campus police and security personnel are turning to technology to increase their reach and to better protect their staff, students and assets.
At Joliet Junior College, they have embraced the idea of technology-driven security to improve safety, response and resolution of issues across their campuses. Due to their focus and ongoing efforts around security, Joliet is considered a national leader in campus safety.
Located in Joliet, Il., about an hour outside of Chicago, Joliet Junior College, or JJC, was founded in 1901, as the first public community college in the United States. Joliet Junior College is comprised of three campuses, as well as three additional educational centers. The main campus of Joliet Junior College consists of 15 buildings, equating to roughly 1 million square feet of facilities. The campus is visited by more than 35,000 students a year, with approximately 1,500 faculty members and staff.
To handle the tall task of protecting the large number of student, staff and facilities, JJC turns to its campus police force. The college's campus police department, is made up of 14 full-time certified police officers, 19 community service officers, 5 dispatchers, 4 student workers and 4 additional administrative staff who patrol or monitor the campus 24/7/365. While this staff rivals many small to medium size city police departments, it is the totality of their security and technology approach that allows them to create an atmosphere of safety amongst their faculty and students.
Officer Chris Luttrell joined the department in 2004, and has worked cooperatively with JJC's Facilities and IT Departments to implement new and expand existing security solutions to create a multifaceted security program that identifies and fills security needs for the college. This program has been embraced and supported by the college administration which provided funding to make this vision a reality. A $315,000 Illinois EMA Grant allowed for update and expansion of a large portion of the existing security system.
Over the past 6 years the square footage of the buildings has nearly doubled from its existing 500,000 to approximately 1 million square feet today. Prior to the expansion JJC had only 20 analog cameras and no remote door access or panic systems in place. Today Joliet's camera system boasts more than 500 Axis IP cameras and roughly 1,000 doors equipped with remote locking controls; Joliet also relies heavily on state of the art software, hardware and networking systems from Cisco and Microsoft campus-wide. However, Luttrell said the most vital aspect of technology to their overall security plan is their duress system.
In 2010, JJC began to investigate installing panic buttons throughout its main campus. When looking at different options, the idea of hardwired buttons was quickly ruled out.
"With such a large campus, the cost to install a hardwired system just didn't make sense to us. With the expansiveness of the campus we really needed wireless technology to help further ensure safety and immediacy in case of an emergency," Luttrell said. "So we set out to find other technologies that could meet our needs."
After searching various options, JJC identified the Centurion system from Response Technologies, which uses the Centurion wireless sensors, including panic buttons, to provide an almost limitless range, affording it the ability to cover a campus like JJC with a single system. JJC began their relationship with the Centurion system that year with a small trial system.
The original system included 17 buttons, beta-tested with select departments including the library and administrative offices. These departments tested its reliability and effectiveness. As word spread to other departments after the system was installed, the campus police began receiving requests for additional buttons. Working with departments throughout the campus created a pay structure for the buttons in order to promote the idea of "buying in" to the system and its procedures. Today, 180 strategically placed duress buttons protect all departments. The system was also expanded to cover 2 additional campuses. JJC campus police extol the virtues of the Centurion noting that it is virtually maintenance free and that they have experienced no signal loss since installation.
“The most important thing the system does is to create a sense of security for our staff,” Luttrell said. “They know if someone presses a button, police will respond immediately.”
Centurion provides instant, location-based notifications when a button is pressed. This means that when one of the faculty members activates their button, an audible notification will be sent over the police’s two-way radios providing details of where the incident is occurring within seconds. The system is used often for minor incidents such as fights or arguments that are beginning to escalate. Luttrell said that the system was recently activated by their financial aid office during a heated argument.
“As things escalated, the employee knew where the button was and activated it,” Luttrell said. “The employee eventually picked up the phone to call police, but by that point the officers were already enroute to that location.”
Something that makes Joliet Junior College and their campus police a leader in leveraging technology is that they are always looking to consolidate systems, and find new ways to use existing technology to assist their needs. Recently, during the construction on a new building, it was determined it would be impractical to use a conventional security system to protect the facility while it was being built due to the lack of telephone land lines. As a way to bridge the gap, the school integrated Centurion to be the panic system in the new facility, to also act as the general security system during construction. By using wireless motion detectors they were able to provide the same security services that standard security systems provide, with the added benefit of removing the monitoring fees and the extra steps in alarm notification that are normally incurred with a traditional monitoring service.
The new facility will open in 2017 and will be the first building at the school to be completely monitored in house. All cameras, panic buttons and motion detectors will go directly to campus police without any outside monitoring companies being utilized. Long-term, JJC’s objective is to maintain and monitor all systems in house, removing the need for any outside monitoring services for the entire college.
JJC has become a leader in campus safety technology by constantly innovating. But, Officer Luttrell explains that it is a never-ending challenge. ”It’s critical to stay up to date with the latest technologies or we could become vulnerable,” he said.
What is next for Joliet Junior College? JJC continues to place a high level of importance on safety and security, so strategies like continuing to consolidate systems, and improvements such as integration of systems are being considered. The ability to trigger panic buttons or motion detectors and serve up camera images is certainly possible for the college in the future. “Our outlook on technology and innovation and our overall goal to protect Joliet Junior College will continue to drive our commitment to safety.” Luttrell said.