Making university campuses safer using digital technology

Posted on: February 18, 2020 by Tony Rich

All too often, we hear stories of terrible events on campuses that result in injuries, and in some cases deaths, of innocent students and staff. According to University World News1 there were over 12,700 attacks on campuses between 2013 and 2017, resulting in over 1,000 students and teachers being seriously injured or worse. In 2018, the US had its worst year on record, with 113 people killed or injured in school shootings.2 Clearly these are horrific statistics, and injuries arise not only from assaults; fires and other campus-based incidents also take their toll.

So, what can establishments do to safeguard their communities, especially in places where on-site security is minimal? While, very sadly, some injuries may be inevitable, advances in digital technologies now make it possible to put more measures in place to reduce risk. These include ways to keep students in touch, to inform first responders of key facts in the event of an incident, and support during evacuation procedures.

Keeping people in touch

Let’s take as an example a simple drone-based app in use on a large campus in Australia, where there is a high instance of sexual assault. The campus provides this simple-to-use app to students and staff so that, for instance, when someone plans to go for a run around the campus grounds, they can log in and voice their secret security word into the app. Then, if something happens or if they feel unsafe in any way, they just say their security word within hearing distance of the app; this then triggers the app immediately to send the person’s GPS location to a central base station and a camera-enabled drone immediately flies to that exact location.

This kind of drone doesn’t operate on a stealth basis; rather, its approach lets potential perpetrators know that it is getting closer and that they will be captured on film – a great deterrent that is already seeing results in a reduction of sexual assaults.

First response

Elsewhere, we are seeing the rise of digital critical response apps. In the event of an incident, a simple evacuation alert is sent to all registered devices as well as the normal alarm bell. In addition, good practice is to hold a roll call to ensure that everyone is outside and safe. Using the same technology, the app can be set to request confirmation that its user has evacuated to a safe location – and even to show which locations are safe. In this way, when first responders arrive, a simple real-time report will show who has not responded and, possibly, their last known location.

These kinds of solutions are being picked up by larger hotels so that they can advise first responders which rooms are confirmed as ‘guest empty’ and which are not, reducing the time that first responders spend in a potentially dangerous environment. After an incident, the hotel can show how well they performed and use the information to protect and enhance their brand. Surely the same could be useful for any education establishment.

Support during an evacuation

Technology can also help with evacuation procedures in the event of an incident. Evacuation alerts can be used to tell people which routes and stairwells to use to evacuate the building as safely as possible or, if appropriate, to tell people to stay there they are. In this way, the evacuation can be controlled so that first responders have what they need to do their job and the risks of innocent people getting caught up in the incident are lower. When used in combination with other digital tools – even the camera-enabled drone mentioned earlier – this will ensure that first responders arrive fully prepared in advance for any scenario.

It’s clear that as digital technologies become smarter and more connected, they can make significant contributions to reducing risk and injury, create a safer environment and give more peace of mind for everyone on a campus. They can also help to reduce the risk of litigation by producing clear evidence and an audit trail of best practice and response times – and giving institutions the opportunity to market their safety and response strategy as a differentiator from competitors.

Critically, if an incident does occur, these tools support and enable security personnel and first responders to respond quickly and effectively. What’s more, with machine learning technology tracking events as they unfold, these capabilities can learn to react and direct even faster the next time something happens, saving not only precious time, but also people’s lives.

1. Education under Attack, 2018, Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack


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About Tony Rich
Head of Client Success and Enablement for Healthcare and Life sciences, Atos
Before Atos, Tony was a Healthcare Transformation Consultant with over 15 years of experience working as an Interim Director at numerous Healthcare providers in the UK and the US, driving strategic turnaround & transformation programmes. He has also been closely involved in many award winning global healthcare innovations for various overseas organizations involving Communications, RFID, social media and other technologies. More recently, Tony supported and advised on many national pandemic response initiatives enabling providers to continue to deliver care. Tony is also one of the founding members of the Health Transformation Project in the United States and an active global HIMSS member and mentor.

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