The 2007 shooting massacre at Virginia Tech that left 32 dead and 17 wounded shocked and horrified the entire nation — but perhaps nowhere more so than just down the interstate in Charlotte. It is there in neighboring North Carolina’s largest city where many future Virginia Tech students emanate and alumni establish their careers. It is also where Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC), the state’s largest such institution, has educated knowledge seekers since 1963.
“Let’s be realistic, everyone is reacting to Virginia Tech. I think in the last week there have been five bomb threats to colleges,” says Aaron Alexander, owner of integrator Security 101’s Charlotte branch. “Colleges now realize they have to be more proactive versus reactive. When parents are choosing a college for their children, there’s no doubt security is a concern.”
To ensure inquiring minds stay focused on scholarly pursuits and bodies out of harm’s way, CPCC stakeholders have green-lit the comprehensive upgrading of security systems throughout the campus.
“There was a need determined by security and senior management that the school needed to be secured,” says CPCC Executive Director of Technology Infrastructure Systems Patrick Dugan. “This site sits in downtown Charlotte and so we have a lot of through-traffic, which makes it a high-risk area. We also have outlying campuses that sit in neighborhoods that have some issues.”
Security 101 was signed on as part of a phased undertaking valued at more than $500,000 that was to include video surveillance, access control, intrusion detection, emergency call stations and more. The project would involve seamlessly integrating the systems such that the whole exceeded the sum of the parts, with a prime directive to enable control and management from one centralized location. In addition, the solution would not only boost security but also numerous operational efficiencies while at the same time reducing their costs.
Security 101 is among many installing contractors targeting education as a market with strong prospects due to the high need to maintain safe environments; however, for those end users finding a way to fund these efforts can be more daunting than writing a master’s thesis on molecular biology. At the same time the fact these campuses frequently have the cabling infrastructures to accommodate today’s advanced networked systems make them primary candidates for converged physical-logical solutions, but also requires security integrators be comfortable working with IT administrators.
IT Expertise Plays a Big Role in Winning Bid
As the nation’s fourth-largest community college, CPCC offers more than 200 degree, diploma and certification programs to 75,000+ students on seven campuses located within the shadow of the Queen City’s downtown skyline. The largest site is its central campus at approximately 52 acres and 27 buildings. Employing a full-time faculty and staff of approximately 1,075 people, CPCC provides customized training solutions to in excess of 550 businesses and 5,000+ employees with 10,000 different classes each year.
In addition to personal safety, CPCC’s security concerns are many and varied. They include vehicles, lab environments and other significant assets. Maintaining an open campus environment is an important part of its culture. Students need to be able to enter buildings without presenting credentials; however, theft issues in areas such as computer and science labs have caused the school to reconsider its security policies.
“We have health services types of technology, with very expensive echocardiograph and other devices. We also have a very expensive automotive program with high-end cars, tools and equipment. All of that has to be secured,” says Dugan.
Having helped CPCC build a robust network infrastructure and supporting subsystems that allow management from the main campus’ datacenter, Dugan, who supervises 24 of the college’s 75 IT specialists, was appointed the lead to oversee and coordinate the security upgrade.
“Once it was funded and the school had made a decision to go forward, IT was one of the large stakeholders and we were one of the leaders in the charge,” he says. “Security is quickly becoming an IT add-on, so to speak. Security staff, of course, was another large stakeholder. We also brought in facility services since they manage the spaces physically. The three of us together worked on the bid process.”
Before contracting an integrator, CPCC hired a consultant to prepare the RFP. As opposed to the previous situation of each campus having its own separate and disparate security system, the new plan would use centralized access control as the basis for the solution with video surveillance and intrusion detection operating within that framework. Thus the system would communicate security information from any of the campuses immediately back to the datacenter.
CPCC IT lead Patrick Dugan (left) greatly values the network expertise of Aaron Alexander, owner of Security 101’s Chartlotte branch.
As a Microsoft-certified systems engineer with software development experience, Security 101’s Alexander has generated local buzz as bit of an anomaly being a true IT-centric security integrator. Learning of his reputation, Dugan contacted Alexander for input and advice during the early planning stages.
“We found there were not many IT-focused integrators in this area at that time,” says Dugan. “That meant a lot to us because it takes a bit to explain to someone the enterprise IT mentality. Someone who knows that industry and understands what we’re looking for solves a lot of problems. And fortunately, after the bidding process, Security 101 ended up winning the bid.”
Alexander understands and appreciates the competitive advantage he receives from his reputation as a uniquely qualified integrator combining networking knowhow with security expertise. This approach and ethic is one he strives to pass along to his employees as well.
“I’ve worked very hard with my staff to let them understand what IT means, teaching them what it means and how to interface with the IT guys,” he says. “Being one myself, we’re different than the security guys. We’re different than the facility maintenance guys. You’re dealing with college-educated, high-degree, master degrees and bachelor degreed-type people. You’ve got to interact with them a bit differently.”
Alexander’s business is one of 27 Security 101 offices. Each location is locally owned and operated by the owner as a franchisee of West Palm Beach, Fla.-headquartered Security 101, which will celebrate its 10-year anniversary in 2013. The franchise model is intended to give end users the feel and personalized customer service of a small entrepreneurial shop along with the advantages of a trusted national company that has greater purchasing power and resources.