Canadian College Takes Multilayered Approach to Security
The 5,200-student La Cité campus, opened in 1995, is Ontario’s largest French-language college. It offers 140 postsecondary programs with degrees ranging from architecture to security management. Students at La Cité are protected by a multilayer security system that has been upgraded to give them further protection and situational awareness. From the time they arrive in one of six parking lots to roaming within the campus’ 10 interconnected buildings, it is the college’s aim that students and staff have access to reliable security, according to Martin Gregoire, campus security director.
The most recent addition to the campus security system is 15 parking lot emergency towers from Aiphone. The towers with IX Series 2 intercom stations enable a distressed student to have a two-way conversation with campus officers. The intercom’s embedded camera provides officers with live video to more accurately assess and respond to a situation.
Rick Levesque, project manager for the Ottawa-based security integrator ComNet Networks and Security, said the towers replaced previous call stations created by a member of the campus IT department. The previous stations only allowed one-way communication and often wouldn’t work. Pushing the emergency button initiated a siren that was so loud students had difficulty hearing the security staff.
“It defeated the purpose of having a system,” Levesque said. “The only thing guards would know is that there was a call from a specific station. An officer would be dispatched having no idea of the situation. And we could spend a week repairing the stations with no guarantee the next day they would still work.”
Concerned about student safety, college administrators decided to upgrade the entire system last fall. At about the same time, Gregoire took over as campus security director after 24 years in protective services at the University of Ottawa.
“They asked my opinion of the plan,” he said. “I told them security is a lot like an onion with its many layers. They made the right decision to start on the exterior and work their way in. I was happy to know we’d have a high quality, functional system in place soon after I’d started the job.”
La Cité also uses a customized mobile app enabling students to contact security, receive notifications and perform other non-emergency functions. Gregoire said he also views the AppArmor program as a valuable security layer that augments, rather than replaces, the emergency towers.
“Getting rid of the towers would be a mistake,” Gregoire said “They are always on and you can’t lose the signal as you can with a cellular-based system. The towers have no batteries that can die. And security officers immediately know the precise location of a tower call.”
Gregoire knows about the loss of cellular service. He was at the University of Ottawa in 2014 when a gunman in the nearby Canadian Parliament building led to a campus lockdown and a temporary loss of cellular service. The campus’ emergency towers helped to fill the communications gap.
La Cité’s emergency towers have the standard blue light that makes them easy to spot at night or in foggy conditions. The intercoms feature two call buttons for different priority levels. An assistance button enables students to seek directions or report a crime, while an emergency button is for summoning immediate help.
Levesque said weather-resistant paging horns attached to the stations are used by officers (provided by Securitas) to provide one-way mass notification information during a lockdown or other emergencies.
This spring, the campus will use optional CCTV arms on four towers to mount Axis 360-deg. multipixel cameras. This will provide the security team with more detailed views of the most distant parking lots. Additional Axis PTZ and bullet cameras are mounted on building exteriors. A Genetec access control system is used throughout campus buildings. There are also panic buttons installed in hallways and some restrooms.
Gregoire is a strong proponent of highly layered security systems and advanced planning. He supports his ideas with a quote from former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson. “Reporters asked Tyson if he had a plan for a fight in which he had been knocked down,” Gregoire recalled. “He said, ‘Yeah, I had a plan until I got hit.’ We can have the best plans on paper but it’s when you get hit that you realize what tools are missing or not working. We need to know we will eventually be hit and plan for it now.”
Both Gregoire and Levesque said the next planned campus security upgrade will involve the installation of emergency towers and stations outside buildings and inside on each floor near stairwells. Budgets will likely require installations to be completed one building at a time.