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Campus Security, Part 2: Leading University Uses IP Communication for Multiple Applications

Oct 17, 2007 12:00 PM, By Linda Seid Frembes

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Now more than ever, an effective communication system across a large campus is critical to campus safety. (See Part 1 of our security series) Recent news reports have only highlighted the importance of reliable, two-way communication systems that can warn students of an emergency or can provide instructions on where to go in times of crisis. As campus security plans comes together, educational facilities are finding that two-way communication systems they have already deployed can also serve as a cornerstone to security initiatives.

Take, for example, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC) whose steadily growing population includes more than 21,000 students and 1,400 faculty members spread across 74 buildings on a 1,000-acre campus. UNCC also has a business incubation center and growing uptown center where classes are also offered. The expanding footprint of the UNCC campus posed several challenges to the university, especially for classroom tech support. “The Office of Classroom Support is a fairly new organization, with classroom systems previously supported by the library,” says Steve Clark, UNCC’s director of classroom support. “In 2005, we were experiencing explosive growth—opening six different buildings in the same fiscal year. At the time, every building occupant wanted the newest technology and individual computer consultants were specifying different technologies in each location. The office was created to standardize our approach to technology and support.”

Clark and his group began with the ambitious goal to respond to support calls within 10 minutes. “If the problem isn’t resolved immediately, then the class will not go on as the instructor planned," he says. "The first 10 minutes is critical. If it takes longer to resolve, then plans change, students aren’t getting their money’s worth and instructors are disappointed.”

UNCC chose Digital Acoustics' IP-based intercom systems to provide two-way communication between classroom instructors and tech support staff. “During that first year of operation, we had about 100 new classrooms going in under a new standard. We had built a help desk button into each classroom’s Crestron touchpanel, but we were walking in blind for service calls. There was no way to ask the instructor about the problem,” Clark says. “At the time, we were looking at intercom systems just for tech support. Using them for campus security was not part of our plans.”

To date, the Office of Classroom Support has installed 350 Digital Acoustics ii3 IP Intercoms in 85 percent of the officially identified teaching spaces across campus, providing educators with the equivalent of a standard push-to-talk intercom. Plugged into UNC Charlotte’s existing local and wide area networks, the intercoms provide instant two-way communication between the classroom and the help desk using standard network audio protocols. “Digital Acoustics was a perfect complement to the Crestron system," Clark says. "With one button, the instructor can open a dialogue with a technician who can talk them through the solution. It eliminates the need for a physical service person in the room 95 percent of the time.”

The ii3 IP intercoms are a flexible option for a growing campus. The intercoms offer remote listening, paging, and transfer capability; operate either with a PC or as a standalone unit; and provide high quality audio over Ethernet, wireless and fiber networks.

The university realized the system’s advantages in reaching the student population quickly after an electrical explosion on campus locally disturbed power and caused some injuries. “Because of the unknown nature of the situation and the possible danger to students, we had runners going door to door and posting signs to stay away from the area. They were also posting class cancellations,” Clark says. “It was an eye opener on a number of levels. The situation made it apparent that two-way intercoms could be used very effectively for emergency situations. With one button, we can announce to one building, a group of buildings, or the entire campus.”

In addition to the intercom system, the university has implemented one-to-one communication systems (text-messaging alerts), broadcast voicemail and email, network pop-ups, university TV, and digital signage. Clark describes it as a much more integrated warning system. “Everything these days is about convergence. Where the AV goes, the IT goes along with it. With the influx of classroom technology, the AV and IT systems will be a hub for disseminating information,” he says.

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