Saint Louis University, founded in 1818, was the first university established west of the Mississippi River. When deciding where to build the institution, the scouting crew was essentially in the Wild West as it surveyed the uninhabited land.
Surveying of a different sort is now used by the university to help staff keep track of the institution’s assets. Security benefits from such surveys as well, says Edward Pfeiffer, assistant director of administration at the university’s Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.
The campus is spread over three square miles in downtown St. Louis, with about 85 buildings concentrated in the immediate vicinity. Given this large footprint, Pfeiffer says that it is critical to keep track of security systems throughout the many buildings on campus. “We’re right in the middle of the city—we’re an urban campus,” he says. The Department of Public Safety has a force of about 80 private security officers who patrol the campus around the clock.
When he first started working at the university more than two and a half years ago, Pfeiffer says that wrapping his head around the access control, fire alarm, and other security systems on campus was overwhelming. “Some doors have card access on them, some have cameras, some don’t,” he notes. “Some are just key locks, and some doors have burglar alarm systems on them.” In addition, the university has nearly 1,000 cameras installed throughout the campus.
Pfeiffer wanted a way to be able to keep track of the many security assets on campus in a visual way that mapped the location of each. And while there are existing layouts of the university’s floor plans, none of them has an efficient display of information to be accessed quickly in the event of an emergency. “Some of them have too much information, some don’t have enough information,” he says. “But none of our diagrams have all of the stuff I want to show law enforcement or a first responder who would need to get into the building—or for that matter, even our own officers.”
Sending such information to law enforcement could be critical in an active shooter scenario, for example, so first responders know which doors have what type of access control, and where cameras are located.
Knowing there was a marketplace for app-based solutions to keep track of security assets, Pfeiffer did a simple search online and came across System Surveyor. The next day he contacted Mike Intag, director of business development at the company, and got the app set up for the university.
System Surveyor is an app designed for the Apple iPad. The company is working on versions for Microsoft Surface and Android tablets, which will be rolled out in the near future, according to Intag. The app allows users to import drawings and digital documents of floor plans and building layouts. From there, they can customize the diagrams with any assets and information they want. Icons that can be dragged and dropped onto the floor plan are available for doors, cameras, access control system types, and more.
“You want to bring in a camera, you just put your finger on it, drag and drop it, and it’s there. You can quickly identify what [access control] is on each door,” says Pfeiffer.
When a user taps on an icon, they get an additional list of features they can assign to that equipment. For example, they can say whether a camera is pan-tilt-zoom or fixed. Pfeiffer notes he can take a picture and add it to the camera’s notes as well, showing the field of view that the camera sees. “Obviously it’s not a live picture but it shows addresses, so I know exactly where that camera is pointed,” he adds.
System Surveyor is still working on rolling out more features for the app that customers can add to the layouts, such as security systems and fire alarms. For now, users can make custom annotations, which Pfeiffer uses to mark where such systems are for the university.
The layout can be stored locally on the tablet device or in a cloud portal available from System Surveyor. Saint Louis University uses both local and cloud storage for its saved plans. Pfeiffer says he also likes the ease of printing out and sharing documents electronically as PDFs. He has the option to filter out certain information before sharing the plans, including where security systems are located.
Although there have not been any incidents requiring Pfeiffer to send the plans to first responders, he notes that an active shooter situation is a scenario he wants to be as prepared for as possible. “It’s a threat more real than I want to dream about,” he says.
Pfeiffer notes that the app is also useful when developing plans for new construction, because he can show vendors what he is looking for by dragging and dropping the appropriate icons.
Multiple users can be added as administrators to the System Surveyor account, though Pfeiffer has not taken advantage of that option yet, because he only has a two-person security team.
Reports can even be as detailed as listing all relevant information for each piece of equipment. “If you want, you can get a report that keeps track of the part number, what day it was bought, who installed it, serial numbers, passwords,” he says. “A whole litany of information is available on that report if you want to get that involved.”