More Security Talk…

After my August article on the possibilities that exist when Security and AV teams get together, I got a lot of feedback.  Many people were really excited about the possibilities and wanted to know more.  I even got a call from the people at Advance Technology (ATI), who I wrote about, and they are interested in talking more about my thoughts, and letting me know what they are currently doing.    Exciting times for those involved in AV and security.

I continue to think about some of these convergences, and one of them that struck me this week when in a discussion with my Director of Security.  He was interested in digital opportunities to get messages out to community members in cases of emergency.  Initially, he was interested in putting digital signage behind the TV’s in our student lounges.  In case of emergency, we could force the TV’s to the digital signage input, and put up the message we wanted to get across.  A pretty interesting idea.  In our case it would not work though.  All of the TV’s purchased for our residence halls are purchased through our facilities department.  So, they won’t have RS-232 or IP control, because the most inexpensive televisions were purchased.  Also, there is not network at most of the locations, in order to run the digital signage.  It would be a major expense to try and implement this for our campus.  However, many campuses have a centrally distributed cable network.  Whether it be over IP or over coax, they have a central location where they can control the image.  If this is the case at your institution, or if you are speccing out equipment for televisions in student lounges, keep in mind these possibilities.  Again, if your infrastructure is already in place, then the costs would be much less, but the potential gains could be great.  It is certainly never too late to start, so as you make plans now think about the future possibilities and put the infrastructure in place.

As I thought about ways to get in touch with people during emergencies, another very simple method came to mind.  All of our technical equipped classrooms have touchpanels in them.  The touchpanels have the capabilities to display “indirect text”.  That is, text that is sent to them on a ad-hoc basis.  This text can be delivered via the master web interface, or via a custom designed iPad interface, or by another touchpanel on campus.  Many of our touchpanels also allow sound files to be played.

A well thought out design would allow you to specify by building, and then by specific room where you wanted text to show up.    If you have sound capabilities on your touchpanel, you could also play an alert that would draw the rooms attention to the touch panel.  If you don’t have audio capabilities, you could be creative and do something like raise/lower the screen or turn the projector on/off.  Again, these activities would draw the room’s attention to the touch panel.  The touch panel could give them information as to what the issue was and what was expected of them.

I am going to give one piece of advice to crafting these emergency messages.  Be specific as possible.  In May, there was a situation in my town, which required the schools to go into lockdown.  There was no problem in the school, but there was a police chase going on outside the schools, with possible weapons involved.  Our schools used the system that calls all the parents at home and on their cell phones.    Unfortunately, the message only said that the school was in lock down and more information would be provided.  It also said that parents should not try and get to the school.  Yeah, right!!!  Within minutes parents were at the school getting their kids dismissed.  Within an hour 50% of the school has been dismissed.  I believe that if the message had made clear that there was no threat inside the school, that police were outside the school and that kids are safer in the school, parents would have stayed put.    So, when you craft a message, be as clear as possible, and give people very clear instructions and reasons for following those instructions.

As we prepare to start school in a few days, I can only hope we never need to have a discussion on how  these concepts work when put to use.  Here is to a happy and safe academic year for all!