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Web-based security cameras to enhance campus safety

Tim Hetrick
Photo by
L. Brian Stauffer

The eyes have it 

Public Safety and CITES – Campus Information Technologies and Educational Services – are creating a Web-based network of security cameras to enhance safety on the Urbana campus. Police officer Tim Hetrick, who is a member of the team leading the project, advises units about the types of equipment that will meet their needs and where to place cameras for the best coverage.

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INSIDE ILLINOIS, Dec. 3, 2009  | Sharita Forrest, Assistant Editor, 217-244-1072

Campus Information Technologies and Educational Services, and the Division of Public Safety are partners in a project to enhance safety on campus by establishing a Web-based security camera network.

The backbone of the system is a digital video management software system administered by CITES that enables campus police and departments to access video when needed to protect public safety.

“We are moving forward with departmental deployments while we design and build the overall service model,” said Thomas Kunka, coordinator of network and system operations at CITES. “We are being careful to design it in a way that is cost effective both now and in the future.”

Kunka, who is leading the project with police officer Tim Hetrick, declined to disclose the name of the software being used so as to protect the system against tampering.

University Housing and Campus Recreation have had camera systems in place for some time but are updating or exploring new ways to use their systems.

Campus units, which must pay for their own systems, are being encouraged to use network-based cameras compatible with the campus system when they install or update camera systems. Existing analog camera systems that are not network-based can be retrofitted with adapters that convert analog signals to digital signals.

Campus Recreation estimates that it will need more than 60 cameras for the Activities and Recreation Center (ARC) at a cost of more than $40,000, according to Greg Burdette, assistant director of Internet technology at Campus Recreation.

The Ice Arena, which has “more than two” cameras, and Campus Recreation Center East, which has “more than 30 cameras,” according to Burdette, have analog cameras hooked to digital recorders and will remain stand-alone systems until funding is available to upgrade them.

“When units come to us and express interest in installing or upgrading their security cameras, then Tim Hetrick; Brian Cockerham, who is assistant manager of CITES’ communications, installation and maintenance services group; and I tour the facilities to assess what’s going on and how we can help,” Kunka said. “Tim gives advice about where to place cameras for optimal effectiveness and what cameras should be used in which cases because there are a number of different types of cameras out there.

“Other folks advise as to whether a particular location is easy or difficult to get networking to,” Kunka said. “Housing, which has 13 cameras, is definitely going to be the largest deployment that we’ll have, but we’re also working with the College of Veterinary Medicine, the College of Engineering and other units.”

University Housing installed cameras in its food-service and food-storage facilities and is considering placing cameras at entrances to the Ikenberry Commons dining facilities so that students could go online to see how busy the dining halls are, said James Quisenberry, senior assistant director of University Housing for technology services.

“I think it’s a good thing for departments to cooperate on a project like this because it’s going to reduce our overall costs since we’re all purchasing similar equipment,” Quisenberry said. “And that means that Public Safety will be in a better place to utilize what we have.”

Cameras at the Ikenberry Commons dining and residence hall complex – under construction near the intersection of First Street and Gregory Drive – enable people to watch the construction progress over the Web while helping protect the construction site.

The campus network cameras are not being monitored around the clock, although video is recorded and archived for 30 days. 

“The departments that deploy these cameras do have the capability to see their own cameras’ video, and Public Safety has the ability to view it in real time or to view the recordings,” Kunka said.

A campus security camera policy, which was implemented this fall, allows the campus police to monitor and review security camera feeds as needed to support investigations and enhance public safety. Units also may assign staff members to review security-camera recordings for public-safety purposes with the approval of Barbara O’Connor, who is the UI police chief and director of public safety.

The campus policy prohibits camera installations in private areas such as resident rooms, private offices, and locker rooms except in certain instances to protect money, property, documents, supplies, equipment and pharmaceuticals.

The team visited or talked with officials at other campuses, including the UI’s Chicago campus, which have camera networks in place.

Northwestern University, one of the campuses visited, closed 100 percent of criminal cases in which suspect photos were obtained from the video and then disseminated by e-mail, O’Connor said.

O’Connor, who served as police chief and director of public safety at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst from 2001-2008, said that the Amherst campus experienced a series of armed robberies in the residence halls before a Web-based surveillance camera network was installed, but the robberies ceased after the surveillance system was activated.


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