QU continuing on path to enhance campus security systems

Ken Wilkerson, assistant director for Safety and Security at Quincy University, monitors the entrance to the new Student Living Center from his computer in the security office. (H-W Photo/Michael Kipley)
Posted: Feb. 14, 2013 10:58 am Updated: Feb. 28, 2013 11:15 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

A security enhancement project announced this week by Quincy University is the latest step in a multiyear effort to make the campus safer.

"The university has been on this track to upgrade its security for quite some time," said Sam Lathrop, QU's director of safety and security.

The latest development surfaced his week when QU announced it has received a $171,900 grant from the Marion Gardner Jackson Charitable Trust to install a security card access system at Francis Hall and install security cameras throughout the campus.

Lathrop said these enhancements will be carried out in phases over a two-year period.

Lathrop said QU has been striving to improve campus security for years -- long before some recent high-profile shooting incidents took place at college, high school and elementary school campuses across the country.

"This has been a multiyear strategy on the part of the university to kind of upgrade what we have and to make it better," Lathrop said. However, he said enhancements can't be carried out overnight because of the high costs typically involved.

"It's nothing new as far as the university's strategy goes," he said. "It's just that the money that the Marion Gardner Jackson grant gave us allowed us to fast-track some of our existing ‘wish list.' "

Lathrop said a card-access system and security cameras were installed at the university's newest dormitory, the Student Living Center, as part of that building's original construction plans. The dorm opened in the fall of 2011.

More recently, QU officials incorporated a card-access system during a major refurbishing of Garner Hall. Lathrop said that card system is slated to become operational within a couple of weeks.

He said more building entrances will be converted to card-access systems as additional money becomes available for remodeling projects.

Last fall, QU became the first university in Illinois to adopt the "MyForce" campus security system that lets subscribers summon help in emergency situations by pressing a single button on their cellphones.

Once the button on a special app is activated, a call will be placed to the MyForce monitoring headquarters, which will use GPS tracking technology to pinpoint the person's exact location -- whether the person is on campus or not. Then a trained MyForce representative will be able to listen as the incident unfolds and verify if an actual emergency is taking place. The representative can then call 911 and provide local emergency officials and campus security with the person's precise location, a photo of the individual and a list of any medical conditions the person may have.

Lathrop said the new MyForce system replaced an older emergency alert system that involved having two so-called blue boxes that students, staff and campus visitors could use to place a radio call to the campus security office.

The new system is much better, Lathrop said, because it allows students simply to use the smartphones that virtually all of them carry.

He also noted that QU has offered around-the-clock, everyday security coverage for a number of years.

"There aren't a lot of small campuses like us have 24-7, 365-day security staff coverage. So clearly security has been an important part of the strategy of this university for some time," Lathrop said. "As technologies and money become available, we're just taking advantage of them to enhance what we have going here."

Lathrop said the card-access systems being incorporated into campus buildings offer security advantages by only allowing authorized people to enter the buildings by swiping an identification card equipped with a miniature computer chip. But this system offers economic advantages as well. For example, if a person loses his or her ID card, the lost card can simply be deactivated and a new card issued. This is less expensive than having to change locks and issue new keys to everyone if one person loses a key.

Lathrop said installing security cameras around the campus also has multiple advantages. For one thing, he said, "it allows us to have information on who's coming and who's going."

But the security cameras also produce a video-taped record of what transpires at targeted locations. Lathrop said this would have been helpful several weeks ago when a building was burglarized on the QU campus. Had a video camera been operating at that location, he said, security officials would have a post-event visual image that could help police solve the crime.

In addition, having security cameras placed around campus can be beneficial in the event of a threat involving an individual with a weapon.

"We would have the ability to go to real-time video and see what is happening at what location and where someone might be moving to," he said. "It would give us real-time intelligence."

Lathrop said QU's administration "takes security very seriously" and has for years.

"When someone sends their children to attend here, they have the right to expect they're going to have a good, safe community environment," he said. "It really is a priority for us."