Keeping Today’s Campuses Safe with Modern Audio Technology

Keeping Today’s Campuses Safe with Modern Audio Technology

Worst-case scenarios tend to dominate the headlines. It’s unfortunate, but it’s true. And when it comes to security—especially campus security—it’s easy to understand. Threats of violence hit close to home when they involve schools, hospitals and other campuses. These are places where people are quite vulnerable and they expect to feel safe, so it is no surprise that the administrators of those facilities want the public to know that they are prepared for all possibilities.

Security means more than catching bad guys on camera. While it’s true that identifying trespassers, vandals, burglars and violent offenders remains as important as it always has been, today’s technology is allowing security teams to do more than ever before. Technology is now used more toward preventative measures—and the advent of internet protocol (IP) audio solutions has played a significant role. Thanks to modern audio solutions, security personnel can issue tailored warning messages, stopping would-be criminals in their tracks. They can detect suspicious activity such as sounds (including gunshots, breaking glass or raised voices), and video can identify the shape of guns in real time and raise the appropriate alerts. Audio solutions can even be used to coordinate evacuation and response amid weather emergencies or other natural disasters. Video has long been a part of campus safety, but the rise of modern audio solutions has put incredible new resources in the hands of security teams.

Augmenting Video with Modern Audio Solutions

Campuses tend to be sprawling, which is part of what makes them so difficult to secure. Whether the campus in question is an education institution, healthcare facility, an airport or something else entirely, getting proper coverage can be a challenge. Fortunately, security no longer depends on a handful of security personnel watching banks of wall monitors for signs of suspicious activity. Thanks to advances in both image quality and processing speeds, modern IP cameras can be equipped with a variety of analytics ranging from simple object and motion detection to more complex facial recognition or aggressive behavior detection.

While these tools are all valuable, they don’t always tell the full story. That can lead to misunderstandings. A campus safety officer looking at a silent video might see two college students gesturing angrily at one another, about to come to blows—but the addition of audio might reveal that they are just two friends having a spirited argument about who is the best baseball player of all time. Audio adds critical context to video that would otherwise be left up to interpretation, and it allows security teams to deploy their resources more appropriately and judiciously. A campus safety officer has no need to get involved in a debate over baseball (unless, of course, they have a strong opinion on the topic).

Audio can also be helpful in the exact opposite scenario: detecting signs of an emergency situation when it might not be obvious on video. Healthcare facilities can benefit significantly here: a bedridden patient might not show any obvious signs of pain, but a microphone picking up their cries for help can alert doctors to the fact that something is wrong. Similarly, modern audio solutions can call for help immediately if a patient slips and falls, even if they came to rest just outside the camera’s view. Simply put, audio helps security teams gain a more complete picture of what is actually happening on campus.

It’s Not Just About Listening

The ability to listen in on what is happening across campus is valuable, to be sure—but it isn’t the only way today’s campuses are using advanced new audio capabilities to improve security. In addition to microphones, many devices are being equipped with speakers, as well. The speakers can be programmed to play warning messages and emergency broadcasts, and, in some cases, even serve as real-time intercoms. This means the cameras are no longer just for passive observation—they can be used to directly communicate.

This is useful for several reasons. The first is deterrence. Although cameras are often thought of as a crime deterrent, the truth isn’t so cut and dry. After all, YouTube has made billions of dollars based on the fact that people do stupid, ridiculous and poorly thought-out things on camera all the time. Pairing audio and video, however, can create the deterrent effect that campuses are after. The simple act of playing a message letting a trespasser, vandal, burglar or other would-be lawbreaker know that they are being recorded tends to be enough to scare them off the majority of the time—and, if it doesn’t, a second message designed to let them know that the police are on their way will almost certainly do the trick. Some devices can even be programmed to shine a bright light on the intruder, better illuminating their face for the camera and putting them—literally—in the spotlight for law enforcement.

But the uses for audio go much further. Unlike analog solutions, which are generally broken down into unchanging “zones” during installation, IP audio solutions can be grouped and regrouped on the fly, allowing security personnel to send specific audio messages to some speakers and not others. The uses for this are not difficult to imagine: In an active shooter situation, tailored messages can be sent to help those inside the facility exit safely. They can also be used to issue real-time updates in the event of a fire, flood or other weather emergency, ensuring that both victims and rescue workers are operating with up-to-date information. In hospitals, intercom capabilities can also allow caregivers to look in on individual patient rooms and communicate with them directly—something that was particularly valuable at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. This highlights the ability to today’s audio solutions to enhance safety and security on both a macro and micro level. For schools, teachers may communicate with administration office staff for routine matters and send an alert to allow administrators to hear a conversation that has become volatile and explosive.

Audio Paints a Complete Picture

Security is an understandably high priority on campuses of all types. Threats of violence and vandalism remain very real, while the potential for extreme weather and other natural disasters seems to grow with each passing year. Video surveillance has always been part of the solution for campus safety personnel, but today’s technology has put advanced audio capabilities in their hands as well, allowing them to improve both their understanding of situations on the ground and ability to communicate effectively with those affected.

Modern audio solutions are helping security teams more effectively allocate their resources while detecting suspicious behavior and potentially hazardous situations with improved speed and accuracy. These advanced tools are more accessible than ever, and their ever-broadening use cases have helped campuses around the world expand their capabilities and ensure that they remain safe and secure amid today’s most challenging threats. It is important to keep in mind that audio solutions do not always mean recording solutions. Some state laws forbid recording any voices without all parties consenting to the recording, while others are more lenient. That said, modern audio solutions can still assist security personnel with alerts and not necessarily record any activity. Network audio solutions are flexible, manageable and customizable, offering safeguards and many features. In the final analysis, modern IP audio technology offers big advantages when it comes keeping today’s campuses safe.

This article originally appeared in the July / August 2022 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.

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