Western Kentucky University Grows
Rarely is the integration of law enforcement and education facilities as seamless as when a university or school system deploys its own police force. While many campuses and schools are too small to merit their own security staff, the larger deployments can be instructive for smaller institutions where communication with local law enforcement is the primary line of defense.
Longtime Milestone Systems customer Western Kentucky University has been an innovation leader in the use of open platform video management software to bring added services to the campus in innovative ways and aid in the protection of its student body and employees. The close collaboration between the university’s IT Division and its police department, based on a foundation of the Milestone open platform VMS, has been central to the university’s successful video surveillance services.
Moreover, according to Jeppie Sumpter, Director of Communication Technologies at Western Kentucky University, the university’s decision to institute an open platform system that is easily scalable has allowed them to integrate new technologies and address new requirements as needed.
“The world has changed considerably since we first implemented our system,” Sumpter noted. “Since 2011, the community we protect — and indeed those we protect against — have become better connected. Information flows much faster and threat management has become more dynamic. Our capacity to address change is central to our readiness. Relying on an open platform system positions our team — our community — optimally to meet change head-on.”
WKU is like a small city, with more than 21,000 students, 3,400 employees, and a main campus that covers approximately 200 acres with dozens of buildings for academics, residence halls, recreation and entertainment. The university also has several smaller satellite campuses. Like any city, WKU has a vast infrastructure, which includes a heating plant, health services, road system and police force.
Each of its many departments has a unique set of requirements for a video surveillance solution. Meanwhile, a small team in the IT division must be able to plan, deploy and manage all these different surveillance solutions.
A key objective of Sumpter’s WKU strategy has been to bring all constituents of the life safety team onto one extensible, scalable domain that is as reliable and stable as it is progressive. Constituents have varying needs and levels of technology sophistication, but the Milestone open platform enables Sumpter and his team to serve as consultant, integrator and central system management and offer software-as-a-service for multiple campus departments and initiatives.
The IT division’s network team at Western Kentucky University started out using Milestone’s open platform video management software XProtect® Enterprise, but upgraded to XProtect® Corporate, which allows them to deploy custom solutions for different departments throughout the university. Over time, they have installed cameras as needed among nearly 30 departments, each with different requirements. They now have roughly 500 IP video cameras around the campus.
The team uses various XProtect add-ons, such as XProtect® Smart Wall, for additional advanced features and leverages Microsoft Active Directory® for managing user permissions. The central management application allows the team to perform most management tasks from one piece of software, making it possible for a small team with limited resources to maintain such a large deployment with ease.
IT handles the video surveillance projects end-to-end in-house. The backend pieces in use are common-off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware leveraging direct attached storage arrays for each recording server. This methodology has been cost effective while still retaining critical qualities of performance and scalability. If one of the main recording servers fails, the backup server automatically takes over. This is a native function of the software.
As is common with the porting of new technologies to diverse non-technology departments, ease-of-use was a critical consideration from the start.
“We shouldn’t expect officers and non-technical staff to gravitate to a technology and actively embrace it unless it’s intuitive and easy to use,” Sumpter adds. “These individuals have so much new information they have to absorb each day that cumbersome or unreliable technology simply will not fly. The Milestone solution is very intuitive and allows them to act quickly and decisively.”
With each deployment project, the Western Kentucky University team sets aside time to train new users working with the XProtect® Smart Client software. They found that anyone who has used a computer is comfortable right away. Sumpter notes that many new users get started without any training needed but we want to help ensure they are using it as efficiently as possible to meet their needs.
The software allows WKU to easily organize users and departments into different groups and profiles, each with potentially unique permissions. This is an environment where many separate clients with diverse needs run off the same, “unified” backend. A user can be assigned access to a very specific set of cameras, and they do not have to be aware of the other users and cameras on the XProtect deployment.
The software leverages Microsoft Active Directory, allowing the roles to rely on user credentials that have already been created in Active Directory. “It’s extremely easy to create and organize these roles,” says Sumpter. “We don’t have to create and maintain users because they are already in our Active Directory implementation and it all ties together very efficiently.”
Each internal university “client” typically has two or three people assigned to operate XProtect for their group. In this environment, many of those clients have limited need or resources for live monitoring Instead, video data is stored in case there is an incident that requires the department to go back and review the recording.
According to Sumpter, confidence in the performance and reliability of the system has benefitted his relationships with his “clients” in other departments, allowed for a culture of collaboration and cooperation, and enabled his team to look to the future and take pre-emptive design steps to make the system stronger.
“The software is stable and reliable,” says Sumpter. “XProtect Corporate allows us to focus on the design work and fieldwork, which is especially important given our limited personnel resources. We can focus on our services and support our clients without worrying about having to babysit the software.”
Sumpter cites the central management application as a key feature that allows such a small team to manage a large video surveillance deployment, in addition to performing all their other roles on campus. They can handle nearly all management functions from a single application, he explains, and credits the Milestone Federated ArchitectureTM as especially helpful for managing remote campus situations.
“We don’t need to move around to different boxes, bounce between different apps and RDP into servers. Milestone provides a nice management tool for a system that is designed to scale flexibly,” says Sumpter.
As the network team rolls out more IP surveillance solutions around WKU, they continue to see people discovering different ways to leverage the system. The campus police department is one example. Going beyond basic surveillance, Sumpter’s team has added a range of automated features that vastly improve usability to aid in their mission to provide campus safety.
For instance, XProtect has been integrated with the campus emergency phones. Pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameras are placed in strategic locations, with presets defined for the areas surrounding the “e-phones.” When someone activates an emergency phone, XProtect automatically displays the location’s live camera feeds on the monitor wall, leveraging the XProtect® Smart Wall add-on. As the police operator takes the call, he or she can monitor the situation while officers are dispatched. At a remote campus that relies on the local city’s police force, activating the emergency phones also triggers instant notifications to key contacts within the city’s police department, alerting local police via emails with image snapshots and text messages.
In another example of the system’s versatility, the university and local city planners had expressed a need to gather data for traffic planning purposes. They wanted one week of video covering specific locations around campus so they could evaluate the use of certain crosswalks and intersections. The network team used temporary mounts and spare cameras to quickly set up the solution, essentially at no out-of-pocket cost. After a week of recording, they simply exported those video feeds so the planners could analyze the video and decide whether certain areas should or should not have crosswalks, stoplights, etc. The team has also set up similar solutions to monitor construction projects.
In addition, the university is exploring mobile video surveillance on campus buses, and the addition of interactive maps to allow operators an easy way to navigate instinctively across the campus.
“Even though we’ve come so far and accomplished amazing things since my team and I first looked at the VMS marketplace for a solution to our IT-based security needs, sometimes I feel like we are just beginning,” says Sumpter. “That’s a good thing though; we are always asking… what else can we do? It’s an exciting time because there are so many things we have on our list to tie multiple systems, solutions, and groups together leveraging Milestone as the glue.”