Magazine

Sam Houston State University: Security Upgrade on a Budget

By Alek Kireyenka

A university security director’s top priority is to keep his or her campus safe by any means necessary. However, budget cuts and lack of personnel have thwarted many directors’ plans at creating such realities.

The good news is that most university campuses already have some sort of infrastructure in place. Many utilize emergency phones and mass notification speakers to maximize coverage.

But because of budgetary constraints, many have had to reject calls to expand or replace these installations with newer and more effective products.

Sam Houston State University (SHSU), a bustling campus of about 17,500 students and nearly 1,500 staff in Huntsville, TX, has been on a crusade to expand mass notification coverage within its budget. Nineteen of Talk-A-Phone’s blue-light emergency phone and mass notification towers were already installed on campus.

Mark Adams, the university’s Vice President for Information Technology, worked with others to determine what upgrades were needed for several of the towers. Due to the success and popularity of existing blue-light emergency phone towers with the company’s WEBS mass notification technology on campus, Adams and his team determined that every tower on campus should have the same capability.

The cost of replacing existing units with mass notification towers was outside the university’s budget. However, Talk-A-Phone had a solution in the form of its WEBS retrofit kits, which fit nearly any of the blue-light towers.

The retrofit kit turns any standard tower into a fully functioning mass notification solution. Without having to replace existing units or provide additional infrastructure, it offers considerable savings on installation and equipment, while providing the capabilities of a brand-new mass notification solution.

Easy-to-install and quick to get online, the retrofit kits have been a godsend for Adams and his team, he indicated.

“Around 2010, we started looking at expanding our campus mass notification system,” he said. “By offering mass notification [retrofit] kits for our existing Talk-A-Phone towers, the company provided us with a very cost effective solution.”

The kits are designed fit smoothly over the top of each tower, extending the height about 2 feet. The towers’ existing emergency blue lights can be placed on top.

Another benefit of these Talk-A-Phone towers and retrofit kits is their reputation for reliability. SHSU, for example, has been using the company’s products for nearly 10 years without a single complication or complaint.

When the university originally started looking at various emergency communication and mass notification options, they wanted something reliable. Each year since their installation, the units have been resistant to weather and daily use by students and staff.

“We use Talk-A-Phone,” Adams said, “because we feel that its units have proved themselves over the 10 years we’ve had them. ... They are hardened units, they’re reliable, and we haven’t had any problems,” he said. “They have been a good investment to ensure the security of our students.”

Along with reliability comes ease of use, he noted. Each tower provides a quick one-button notification with the university police department. When a unit is activated, the dispatch center immediately knows where that activation came from. This has dramatically cut down on response time and improves situational awareness during an emergency.

Not only are the units easy to operate for students, staff, and visitors, they also are easy to manage for security and IT personnel, Adams noted. “The system is simple, quick, and doesn’t take a lot of training to use. We can set up prerecorded messages and quickly make new ones,” he said. “We know the system is going to work.”.

At SHSU, each blue-light emergency phone tower with WEBS has a hand-held microphone that allows police and security personnel to make immediate mass notification broadcasts from individual tower locations. These microphones give personnel the flexibility they would need to disperse crowds or quickly deliver precise intelligible instructions on the fly.

Additionally, on top of each tower is an LED blue light. During an activation, it flashes continuously until help arrives. This alerts passersby and security personnel of a nearby emergency.

The lights also help create a visible border around the campus that alerts individuals inside and outside the grounds. “We feel the units provide a deterrent to crime due to their size, appearance and lights,” Adams added.

With expansions being planned for its athletic teams and clubs, Adams said he couldn’t be happier that he has products in place that can be easily installed and adapted to the university’s changing needs.



Alek Kireyenka, Marketing Manager for Talk-A-Phone, can be contacted at akireyenka@talkaphone.com.

Article Abstract from October, 2013




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