THE MAGAZINE

Security's Way of Wisdom

By Ann Longmore-Etheridge

The motto of Chicago’s DePaul University is “I will show you the way of wisdom.” It also showed the way to increased security when it decided to greatly expand video monitoring of its student residence halls and apartments in 2008.

The university’s Public Safety Department chose the combination of user-friendly software, standalone servers, and IP cameras. The new system had the ability to incorporate the legacy equipment, and it allows for future large-scale expansion, which the university has plans for in the next few years.

DePaul was founded in 1898 and has grown to include six campuses in the Chicago area. It has more than 23,000 undergraduate, graduate, and law students, and is home to about 2,700 residents at its Lincoln Park campus, which has been ranked as one of the most beautiful urban campuses in the nation. Students live in a combination of traditional residence halls, an historic courtyard apartment building, and myriad converted historic townhouses, which are spread over 40 acres of urban area and interwoven with other residential and commercial communities.

Until last autumn, the university had surveillance cameras trained on only the entrance lobbies of the traditional style dormitories. There were about 25 analog cameras, which fed to digital video recorders (DVRs) located at the dorm’s front desks or locked inside on-site data closets.

To address problems that the university had with vandalism, false alarm pulls, and even some small incidents of arson, Director of Public Safety Bob Wachowski wanted to expand camera coverage to “the common areas, the hallways, and the exterior and entrances of the dorms.” This would enable security “to see who was coming and going,” he says. He also wanted to do the same at all of the other campus housing units.

After Wachowski researched current technological options, consulted the university’s IT team, and secured funding, he sent out a request for proposal (RFP) detailing what he sought in bids for the project. The university wanted a standalone IP-camera system that was server-based and would use the university’s intranet, with the ability to store a minimum of 30 days of digital recordings.

The system would have to be able to accept the migration of the existing analog cameras to leverage the network infrastructure already in place. It also had to be able to handle future expansions to cover the student residences at Depaul’s Chicago Loop campus, and its management and retrieval software had to be user-friendly.

Wachowski knew that the nontraditional types of residences at the Lincoln Park campus would cause installation complexities. Expanding the system would be a costly and time-consuming task, in part, because coaxial cable would have to be laid through the buildings’ diverse architectures.

Contractors would also have to factor in the varied building materials and the need to avoid damaging the historic structures. “We had to have walk-throughs of all the halls and other residences with each prospective bidder,” Wachowski states. “They’re all unique,” he notes. “For example, one has these long, winding hallways. It would be unfair to the bidder if that wasn’t seen.”

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