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Photo courtesy of University of Central Florida

A Safety Strategy on Campus

​In March 2013, a student at the University of Central Florida (UCF) was poised to carry out a gun attack in Tower 1, a dormitory that hosts 500 students. He planned to pull the fire alarm, then start shooting his classmates as the building was evacuated. When it came time to carry out the attack, however, his weapon jammed. As responding officers closed in, he took his own life.  

While security cameras at the Orlando-based university captured the incident, first responders were unable to view video during the situation because it was hosted on a local server and getting to the recorder would possibly put them in harm's way. Similarly, during the investigative period, the building was locked down, and the video could not be accessed.

In the immediate aftermath of the active shooter situation, it took more than eight hours to get in touch with the person in charge of the video management system for the building, says Jeff Morgan, director of security and emergency management for UCF. The sworn campus police department ended up having to confiscate the local network recording device as evidence.

The active shooter situation, which highlighted the limitations of the campus video infrastructure, helped the university realize it was time to reevaluate its security technologies. "We knew we were one weapon jam away from our own Virginia Tech here at UCF," he says, referring to the April 2007 massacre that resulted in the death of 32 people in Blacksburg, Virginia. "That's when we realized we needed someone to come in and fix it. We can't have folks without access to those cameras when needed, and not being able to get a hold of people in the middle of the night." 


The department decided to hire a subject matter expert from the security world–someone who could bring in a mix of technologies that were scalable for the growing campus and user-friendly.

In December 2014, UCF hired Joseph Souza, CPP, PSP, as its assistant director of security. Souza says he was immediately interested in integrating the university's disparate video systems into one platform. 

"We had 58 different camera servers run mostly by IT across the university, and there were no standards on how the camera systems were run," Souza notes. "There was no standardization on what cameras were purchased, recording resolution, frame rate, duration, or retention." 

The access control system was also in need of an upgrade, he adds. "We had several different access control systems, several different key systems; none of that had been consolidated in any way."

Part of the security team's solution was to hire coordinators for both the camera and access control systems. The two hires were university employees who came from the IT department. "They had strong IT backgrounds but also security experience, so for me it was the best possible fit, because both technologies rely heavily on IT," Souza explains. 

The security team began partnering with the UCF IT department to benchmark new products before buying them—a practice that continues. "That's something we do constantly," he says. "We evaluate new products, we establish and approve product lists, and then that allows us to implement cameras and access control for new construction." 

Souza has helped his department get involved in construction projects on campus so that security is integrated from the start. "We've been involved at the ground level of planning and design," he says. "We attend the weekly meetings with the construction team and we make sure that all the security products are put in all the proper places with security in mind." 

One such project is the university's new downtown campus in the Paramore district of Orlando. UCF is partnering with Valencia College to build an academic center, which will have a housing facility, parking garage, utility plant, public safety building, and academic structure. The security and emergency management teams were involved in the planning, design, and now construction of those buildings on the new campus.

The downtown district is being revitalized, and Souza notes that the project is not without its challenges. In the leadup to the campus groundbreaking, UCF partnered with Orlando Police, Orange County public schools, and Orange County emergency managers to increase security in the area. Together, they worked to expand contract security and police presence, as well as cameras and emergency call towers.

"It is already paying dividends, as our staff and students appreciate the additional security presence," Souza says, "and we have seen a decline in the nefarious activity in that area."

Video Management

After the active shooter incident, UCF wanted to upgrade to one platform that could manage video across the entire campus. This would make upgrading units easier as well. 

"In the past, we had a few hundred folks that had access to cameras, and if we needed to push an update or a patch, we had to go through every individual computer," Morgan explains. "We had disparate servers throughout the campus…a lot of them were reaching end-of-life, so we knew eventually we'd have to do an consolidation effort." 

UCF put out a call for proposals to vet various video management system vendors, and brought in the finalists for panel-style question and answer sessions. 

In April 2017, the university chose Pivot3's hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) platform, which uses VMS software from Milestone. "Pivot3 stuck out far and above everyone else's capabilities for what we wanted to do," Souza says. 

The Pivot3 HCI platform consolidates servers, storage, and client workstations into one solution managed from a single administrative interface. It took UCF two months to migrate its old recordings from its various VMS servers to the new system, and completed the project in July 2017. The system has redundancy built-in, so that if hardware failure occurs, previously recorded video is protected. With several research projects and laboratories across campus, this type of data protection is crucial. 

"On the maintenance side, if cameras go down, cameras need work, or lightning strikes–whatever it is–it's a lot easier for us to see what's down and repair it as soon as possible, with everything all in one platform," Morgan notes. 

The university also has to abide by certain privacy requirements for some of its research and education initiatives. "We have a lot of applications where the cameras are used to help people train to be counselors," Souza notes, "and we have labs with cadavers where medical research is conducted." With Pivot3 HCI, the video server environment can be segmented to isolate those cases, and privacy rules can be applied.  

Every user with access to video now undergoes training. "By and large, we no longer allow servers to export video," Souza says, noting that keeping a lid on video access helps the university better protect its students. "We put very tight policy around that, and training, to make sure our university isn't going to end up on a news story for misuse of surveillance systems," he says. The university limits exporting privileges to campus police and other law enforcement.


With the new video infrastructure, surveillance has become a more user-friendly experience, Morgan says. The campus is better equipped to deal with any situation that may arise, from emergencies to everyday activities at a large university, because there is a single login to watch cameras across the entire campus. 

The advantages of the new system recently came to light when campus police were tracking two suspicious individuals moving across school grounds. "When they traversed from one building to another part of the campus, we could stay in one logged-in environment, versus trying to log into two or three different areas to try to track them," Morgan says. "The new system has made a huge change in response, and a big impact on investigations." 

The new system offers integrated mapping that displays available cameras in a specific location. "Now [officers] can just look at a campus map, click on a building, see what cameras are there, and click on that camera to pull it up," Morgan adds. "So you don't have to memorize where the cameras go."

In two to three years, UCF plans to expand its inventory to more than 3,000 cameras, including a greater number at the new downtown campus, which will be managed on the Pivot3 platform. The university has a mix of cameras from Axis and Oncam Grandeye.

One area where security has recently expanded camera coverage is Spectrum Stadium, where the UCF Knights play football. "We work every football game, including tailgating leading up to the game and post-game, to make sure there are no incidents," Souza says. Recently, 43 additional cameras were placed in and around the stadium, which holds 45,000 people. 

The school partners with a company called CSC for event security at the football games. "When an incident happens, we're right on it with surveillance," he says. "We can do situational awareness, whether it's a fight or a medical incident. We're proactively monitoring the crowd for anything that's going on."

The last two years, UCF has played host to the Florida Cup, an international soccer tournament. Souza says the enhanced situational awareness is invaluable at that event. "It's a more excitable crowd, they are really excited about soccer, so they bring in the smoke bombs and get into fights in the parking lot, and fights in the stadium," he notes. 

UCF was also able to take full advantage of the upgraded cameras during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, when then-Republican candidate Donald Trump visited campus, as well as then-President Barack Obama, who was campaigning for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. "We partnered with the U.S. Secret Service…we were also working with all of our law enforcement partners who worked with the candidates, helping them and giving them awareness of what was going on," Souza says. 

Access Control

In addition to the video server and camera upgrades, the university wanted to enhance several aspects of its access control system, including provisioning and deprovisioning of cards. Souza is leading an effort with IT and human resources for granting and revoking card access for students, faculty, and staff. 

The campus is in the midst of a project to tie the HR directory to the access control system, "so we can have provisioning and deprovisioning of employees that ties them to their academic semesters, hiring and termination, or retirement of employees," Souza notes. 

Smart cards for students and faculty and card readers were also upgraded. "Our form of access control was magnetic stripe readers, now it's HID iClass" Souza says, which are contactless cards that are swiped in front of a door reader. "Not relying on magnetic stripe is a huge benefit."

The university has a contract guard force responsible for locking and unlocking buildings that are not automatically controlled. They also check to ensure the buildings that are automatically locked and unlocked are properly secured. 


UCF has several ongoing security initiatives that it hopes to expand in the future, including its drone program, which was a major asset to the school during two recent hurricanes. UCF purchased a DJI Phantom Pro 4 drone and accessories, and used the vehicle to assess pre- and post-hurricane damage during Matthew in 2016 and Irma in 2017. The drone images were combined with data from cameras and access control systems to paint a holistic picture of how the storms affected the campus.

 "After the storm, we provided our facilities damage assessment team with immediate images of damages across all of our campuses, then flew drones the day after the storm to get high resolution images of the overall damage to buildings, as well as debris and fallen trees," Souza explains.

The school has a student intern, certified by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, who pilots the drone and trains others who seek certification. "We want to use drones for security and emergency management, but also use them safely and securely, with no privacy concerns being violated or safety issues with them crashing into people or things," Souza says. "We're reaching out to many different universities and public entities, drone companies, and drone detection companies to try to form a base on what drones for education programs looks like."

This spring, UCF finished renovating a media briefing room into its new global security operations center (GSOC). The security team actually rode out Hurricane Irma in 2017 in the center, before construction was finished. The school included the word "global" because security can keep track of students and faculty who participate in programs abroad. 

The GSOC has a large video wall that projects news, weather, pertinent alarms, and allows for control of digital signage across campus. There is also a conference room for briefings.

"We have the ability to track pinpoints on a map, track itineraries…and [use] a mass notification system to reach out to those students in whatever country for whatever incident may arise, whether it's a student that's sick, a large natural disaster, or terrorist attack," Souza notes.

Although the 2013 active shooter incident did not result in disaster for UCF, Morgan iterates that it spurred them on to make positive changes at the university, all of which ultimately strengthen its security posture. "We said, 'Okay, let's do what we need to do and be proactive–and let's try not to be reactive," Morgan says. "Now we have experts that can help us put the right solutions in the right places."