In recent years, colleges across the country have upgraded and improved the way they monitor, assess, and respond to security incidents on campus. Unfortunately for many departments around the country, the recent economic downturn has led to slashing of budgets and personnel. This has posed a serious challenge to college police and security departments. As a result, campuses now have to rely on improved infrastructure and tools in order to police their respective populations more efficiently.
Emergency phones have been an important part of the security landscape at educational institutions for some time. Beginning as simple two-way communication devices, they have evolved into multipurpose tools for improving campus safety and security.
Newer devices can not only provide needed assistance to distressed individuals, they can remotely monitor areas when officers aren’t available, tie-in with access control devices and video management systems, and broadcast mass notification messages to large areas on campus.
Knowing that these tools are now available, many colleges have started looking at emergency phone towers as a way to leverage their infrastructure investment and compensate for the cuts in budgets and personnel.
Hillsborough Community College, located in Hillsborough County, Florida, has been at the forefront of adapting their security infrastructure and police force to unfortunate budgetary cuts and personnel limitations. In order to overcome these constraints and properly police their 48,000-student enrollment, Hillsborough turned to Talk-A-Phone Company.
Talk-A-Phone presented Victor Clime, Chief of Public Safety for Hillsborough Community College, with emergency phone towers that incorporated emergency communication, mass notification, camera surveillance, and access control capabilities.
These towers were able to greatly increase the effectiveness, capability, and response of Chief Clime’s depleted department. Chief Clime stated, “Our towers used to only be emergency phone towers. We now have emergency phone towers with mass notification capabilities, cameras, and other tools. Because of budgetary constraints, every safety department across the country thinks they’re undermanned. I certainly felt the same way. These towers act as a force multiplier for me. They provide eyes and ears to my officers. They provide a voice when I need one. It allows us to quickly respond to situations and patrol more effectively. It was definitely an investment that was worthwhile.”
There are dozens of emergency phone towers installed across Hillsborough Community College’s five campuses. Sporting a safety blue color and intense LED Blue Light on top, the towers are hard to miss during both day and night. The number, size, and visibility of the towers create an easily identifiable perimeter around and throughout each Hillsborough campus.
Chief Clime said, “We even have them in our most remote locations,” he added, “Students are very aware that these units are around. While on campus you can’t look in any direction without seeing a tower. They remind students and visitors that my guys are always ready and watching. I know that students appreciate them and I know my officers do too.”
The Talk-A-Phone towers act as a two-way communication device with an uninterrupted connection. This means that an individual doesn’t have to hold a button every time he/she wishes to talk. An individual only needs to activate the tower once in order to have a continuous connection to the campus police or dispatcher. This feature is especially helpful for individuals who need the use of their hands during an emergency.
Additionally, every time a tower is activated the exact location of the unit is relayed to the dispatch center. This saves the dispatch center time in trying to figure out the location of the call, especially if an individual who activated the tower does not know their location or cannot respond verbally. Chief Clime reiterated, “When someone activates a unit our department immediately knows their location and what’s going on. This has shortened our response time and improved our service provision to the college as a whole.”
In order to police Hillsborough Community College’s sprawling campuses, Victor Clime had to maximize the efficiency of his patrolling police force. With a lack of officers available, Chief Clime again saw his new emergency phone towers as the solution.
Extended on an architectural CCTV arm above each tower are dome PTZ cameras that provide surveillance before, during, and after an activation. With these cameras, Chief Clime’s dispatch center was able to watch all areas of campus while working shorthanded. The towers act as patrolling officers, relaying up to date information at a moments notice.
Chief Clime said, “We’ve had instances where we’ve identified suspicious activity on campus through our cameras. In one case we had someone trying to break into several vehicles on the far side of campus. Students saw this and activated a tower. We saw this through our cameras and our department responded immediately. We were able to catch the individual and stop the crime.” Furthermore, the cameras can help identify individuals during an activation, as well as identify individuals at access control points and gates.
Another benefit for Chief Clime and his officers is the mass notification capabilities of the towers. Near the top of each tower are four high-powered speakers capable of providing 360º coverage. Chief Clime said, “Hillsborough Community College had to be in compliance with mandates, issued by the Department of Homeland Security, requiring mass notification capability across campus,” He continued, “What was great about our new towers was that they not only provided us with emergency communication and “eyes in the sky”, but they also included mass notification capabilities.”
During an emergency event there may be a need to send out a mass notification message. Visitors, faculty, staff, and even students may not have immediate or direct access to college emails, texts or other lines of communication. The towers cover any of those voids and make sure that if a message needs to be sent out, everyone on campus will receive clear and detailed information. The dispatch center can broadcast from towers individually or in groups.
This allows Chief Clime’s department to send specific messages to some or all areas of campus with ease. An additional benefit is the ability to broadcast directly from the towers themselves. In the back of each tower is a handheld microphone, allowing individual officers with the authority to do so to make announcements through the loudspeakers based on what they can see on the grounds in front of them. This gives officers flexibility if a mass notification broadcast needs to be made immediately or lines of communication with control centers are down.
Additionally, Hillsborough Community College installed several Talk-A-Phone blue light towers with card readers. These units, in conjunction with the other Talk-A-Phone towers on campus, created access points where Chief Clime’s officers could monitor sensitive areas of campus and identify individuals who requested admittance.
Changes or additions to infrastructure often lead to complicated installation and integration. To Chief Clime’s surprise, the Talk-A-Phone installation went flawlessly. “Everything was completed on time and on budget. I was happy with how easy it was. Talk-A-Phone’s service has been excellent. They answer all of our questions and they’re easy to get a hold of.”
Overall, Hillsborough Community College has succeeded in implementing a universal security tool for their campus. Chief Clime and his department have been able to overcome unfortunate limitations with the help of Talk-A-Phone towers. Due to these installations the Hillsborough Community College police department is stronger, more coordinated, and more knowledgeable than they were before. Since Talk-A-Phone has made such a positive impact on students and staff alike, the college plans to add more towers to two additional facilities within the upcoming year. Mr. Clime said, “We plan to provide the same tower services to those new facilities as we did our old. I’m looking forward to adding them…I’m glad they’re here!”
This article originally appeared in the January 2013 issue of the Security Products magazine.