Michigan State University, which has grown considerably since its founding in 1855, comprises 660 buildings spread over approximately 3,200 acres. These house everything from classrooms and faculty offices to a major credit union. The university has the largest college housing complex in the nation, with 23 undergraduate halls, one graduate hall, and three apartment villages—all part of the total number of buildings. In addition, the campus, located in East Lansing, includes 2,000 acres that are planned for future development. Another 15,000 acres across Michigan are allocated for agriculture and forestry research by MSU students.
There are 11,000 faculty members, support staff, and other employees, who together make it possible for the university to offer its 200 programs of study. Taking advantage of these programs are more than 45,000 students hailing from all 50 U.S. states and 125 other countries.
Until the late 1990s, the university was operating on an old fire and access control system that had been installed in the 1960s. The system was basically one alarm panel that monitored two or three locations, such as the credit union located on campus. The panel connected to an intercom at the university police station. There were fewer than ten of these alarms on campus.
By the late 1990s, this system was literally falling apart.
Something—either an upgrade or a total replacement—had to be done. Even if the security division had wanted to expand the existing system, the manufacturer did not have the capacity to handle MSU’s needs, so the access control and security division of the university police department set out to find an entirely new system for a program that would initially be limited in scope but would be expanded in the future.
The decision to replace the alarm system coincided with a major fire and with requests from campus customers for alarm monitoring. For the most part, these requests came from financial units or other groups that dealt with money, such as the campus bookstore. Following is a look at how the system needs were assessed and what lessons were learned from the installation process, which is now in its final stages. We’ll start with the fire that served as the agent of change.