CIO Kathy Lang: Virtual patrolling center enhances campus safety

Marquette University CIO Kathy Lang has built a virtual patrolling center that is already improving student safety in and around the urban campus.

Marquette University's Milwaukee campus is subject to many of the same crimes that afflict the city. The safety of its 11,000 students is of paramount importance, says CIO Kathy Lang.

Working with the university's department of public safety, Lang's IT department built a virtual patrolling center that collects real-time video from in and around the campus. In this podcast, Lang talks with senior news writer Linda Tucci about the logistics of getting this sophisticated video surveillance system off the ground and the dividends it's already paying. Marquette's Command Information Center, modeled after systems used by large corporations and cities, is also attracting high interest from other universities looking to improve student safety.

SPEAKER'S BIOGRAPHY: Lang is CIO at Marquette University, which serves more than 11,000 students through its undergraduate, graduate and professional programs. As CIO, Lang is responsible for the strategic direction of technology and the coordination of computing and information systems, including operational management for technology infrastructure, project management, applications and support services for the university. Lang holds an MBA from St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, Minn., and a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D.

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Read the full transcript from this podcast below:

CIO Kathy Lang: Virtual patrolling center enhances campus safety

Linda Tucci:  Hi. This is Linda Tucci, senior news writer for SearchCIO.com. Today I'm talking with Kathy Lang, Chief Information Officer from Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI. Kathy is a 2008 SearchCIO midmarket leadership award winner. She's being recognized for creating a virtual controlling center for the Department of Public Safety for the University. It's called the Command Information Center. It employs very sophisticated technology to monitor the safety of students. Kathy, welcome.

Kathy Lang:  Thank you.

Linda Tucci:  And congratulations on your award.

Kathy Lang:  Thank you.

Linda Tucci:  Let's start by talking a little bit about this Command office and what it actually involves.

Kathy Lang:  Well, first of all, Marquette is located in Milwaukee, within an urban setting, and so we're subject to some of the same crime issues as the city itself. So safety and security of our students are top priority, and fighting crimes and keeping our students safe is really what we try and improve.

What we're looking for is a way to add more safety, add more security without adding additional headcount to the public safety staff. And the Command Information Center really does that. It integrates our existing video cameras and our campus alarm system with off-campus cameras that are located around a perimeter of the campus, where a lot of the students live. And all those cameras, then, come back to a single location, so we can monitor what's going on in those areas. And we did this using wireless mesh systems, where we've got wireless access points, even on buildings that are not Marquette buildings, around the neighborhood, so we can get the video from the cameras back to a central location.

Linda Tucci:  Kathy, take us through the logistics of getting this set up. It sounds pretty complicated. 

Kathy Lang:  Well first we had to do some wireless surveys and determine if wireless could even work with the buildings that are in those locations. And we had to determine where most of our students live, where would make the most sense to put cameras so we can monitor, and then do the wireless survey to make sure wireless would work in those areas. We also had to talk with landowners and property owners to get permission to mount the cameras and to mount access points, so we could bring this data all back into the university.

Linda Tucci:  Who did you have to sell this project to? Is it a project initiated by the overseers and the university or...?

Kathy Lang:  It was really initiated by public safety, and they worked very closely, then, with IT, because technology is obviously the key of it and so we run the technology for them. But they really saw it as a need to protect their students. This was a way they felt they could provide additional protection, without adding staff, because it's always harder to add people to the staff. The other thing, too, is cameras, don't get sick. They don't go down. They are working whether it's snowing or raining. And of course, we have to deal with quite a bit of that in Milwaukee.

Linda Tucci:  Tell us a little bit about your IT staff and budget.

Kathy Lang:  We have about 75 people on the staff, and primarily it's centralized staff. There are a few IT people in some other areas, but primarily centralized. So we handle all of technology for the campus, both academic and administrative, and even research technology. Our budget is about 10 million dollars in operating.

Linda Tucci:  For this project did you have to hire new staff or were you using existing staff?

Kathy Lang:  We used existing staff, but we did bring in consultants and the vendors who provided the expertise with, both the camera, setting up the wireless grid, testing it, architecting the solution to begin with, and doing the actual implementation of the equipment.

Linda Tucci:  What applications did you use?

Kathy Lang:  Aegis Software is probably the primary system, and that connects into our secure alarm system. Other than that, it's cameras that digitally record the video onto Intellex DVR units, which is digital video recorder units that are housed in our data center.

Linda Tucci:  How are the existing applications integrated? Or is that an issue?

Kathy Lang:  That was part of it. The alarm system is specially, with the software and the cameras and the integration of all those pieces, are that, if an alarm goes off in a building, say, a fire alarm, then the camera that's located closest to that area will automatically come up on the big screens. In our public safety department, we have the Command Information Center, where all this video comes in. We have a wall of video displays with six 50-inch video screens.

Linda Tucci:  That's quite amazing. So you really get this big picture of what's going on?

Kathy Lang:  Yes. It's really nice. It automatically pops up.

Linda Tucci:  Is the project completed?

Kathy Lang:  Nope. We're still continuing it. We're into our... phase two is just finishing, up and we'll be starting phase three. It's all dependent on funding and cameras, and as we get more funding we can get more cameras. The other thing we're doing is, existing cameras that were around campus, we have various cameras that were recorded onto VHS tapes. Things like that. All of those are being replaced or updated to go digital, and then they'll be incorporated into the system.

Linda Tucci:  Do you have a ballpark figure on how much this is costing the university?

Kathy Lang:  Probably, right now, around two million.

Linda Tucci:  Do a lot of campuses have something like this?

Kathy Lang:  No, many of them don't. Marquette is really leading, I think, in this type of security system. And we take more from what industry is doing in general, or maybe, other cities are doing, so this is where we've taken this idea. But we've had a number of universities that have contacted us, that are interested in seeing what we've done and how it works, and looking at doing something like that on their own campuses.

Linda Tucci:  It almost seems crass to ask you about ROI, but how do you measure success?

Kathy Lang:  I think the key will be what type of crimes we will be able to prevent. A couple of things that have already happened when we first implemented this system, one was that there was a situation where a student falsely accused that they were robbed, and we were able to look at this video and see that it did not actually happen.

So that was one case. In another case, there was an attempted robbery. We were able to get a picture of the car the suspect escaped in, and we passed out pictures of the car to all the public safety officers, and about three days later, they saw the car on campus, the Milan's Police Department stopped them, and actually admitted to the crime.

So we feel it is working already. We have it set up so, with the alarm system, if there is some type of major emergency, we can do an all-campus lock-down, if need be, which automatically locks all the buildings so no one can get in. Or we can do it by building by building. So, it's all integrated in that also.

Linda Tucci:  Well thanks Kathy. Sounds like an amazing project. Thank you for talking to us about it and we look forward to seeing you at the conference.

Kathy Lang:  Thank you.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer.

This was first published in June 2008
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