Photo by Mariah Wilson

Campus Security install 1,100 high-definition cameras on campus

By Justin Schellenberg, February 16 2018 —

New cameras are popping up over the University of Calgary as Campus Security continues to expand the school’s integrated security system.

As part of an extended five-year upgrade plan, the school has gone from having 80 low-definition closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras to having 1,100 high-definition CCTV cameras. They plan to bring the total 3,500 cameras by the end of the five-year plan.

Upon starting his tenure three years ago, Campus Security chief Brian Sembo was given the mandate to retrofit the school’s old security system.

“We tore out the old camera system and we realized we’ve got a lot of shortcomings with technology here, including the cameras,” Sembo said. “Their images were in black and white on a VCR recording system.”

Sembo said the system is now fully digital, controlled from a new security centre and operating from a unified platform that can control all aspects of the university’s security system.

“It’s an integrated suite of programs,” said Rick Gysen, Campus Security’s community operations manager. “We can control CCTV, card access and a number of things.”

Gysen described how the CCTV camera system uses a suite of analytics programmed into the cameras to recognize and identify objects and people.

The analytics also help sort through hours of footage to find specific objects, patterns or incidents.

The system responsible for this work, called BriefCam, eliminates the need for operators to parse through days of footage to find a specific event.

“The analytics in BriefCam actually identifies set-in parameters,” Gysen said. “We’re looking for something that is predominantly red that’s moving in the direction in this area, it’ll take all that data, compress it down and give us, say 20 minutes, of data to look at.”

Though the upgraded CCTV system serves as a crime deterrent, it’s geared toward catching culprits after the fact.

“Using the CCTV, we are able to identify the people and pass that information onto the Calgary Police so they can further their investigation,” Sembo said.

“We’ve successfully solved frauds, thefts, break-ins, assaults — pretty much anything under the criminal code that we’ve investigated — through the use of CCTV already,” he added.

Signs relaying the new cameras’ locations are being distributed around campus to inform the students about the upgrade.

Sembo also said that no privacy complaints over the past three years have been filed and that the upgrade has been viewed favourably by students.

“Our feedback is that students actually prefer to have surveillance systems around, where they’re going to school, where they’re walking around to and from for safety reasons,” Sembo said. “I think it’s a bit of a culture shift from maybe where we were 15 or 20 years ago.”

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