Sad Sign of the Times

By Tim Kridel 1/17/2013

The day a student killed 32 people and wounded 17 others at Virginia Tech in 2007, the West Virginia University technology staff received a call. It was more of a mandate than a request: Identify how digital signage could help alert faculty, students, and staff during emergencies, and then implement it ASAP.
 

 

"They were told immediately to find a solution," George Cicci, a WVU professional technologist, told NewBay Media in 2011. "Once we proved that we had a nine-second response time with the emergency alert, the senior leadership at WVU threw every available resource behind this because they wanted everything put up quickly.”

 

It’s a sad way to get carte blanche, but it’s also a common one. In the wake of December's Newton, CT, shooting, technology managers in both secondary and higher ed may suddenly have extra budget and support to invest in security. But a CapEx budget today does not guarantee an OpEx budget tomorrow, so how can tech managers ensure that they're not deploying more than they can support and operate?

 

In the case of digital signage on the campus, it’s critical to create a plan that specifies who controls the signage network and its content. For example, during emergencies, the campus police department might have the ability to take control of the network to start pushing alerts, as is the case at WVU.

 

But emergencies are the exception, so the rest of the time, there still needs to be a hierarchy for publishing and managing content. For large networks, one option is to have each department handle content for its buildings. For small networks, it might be more practical to have a single office, such as student relations, handling that task. Both strategies help avoid the problem of outdated content, which undermines the signage’s effectiveness. After all, if stale content conditions students, faculty and staff to stop checking out signage, then it won’t be as effective for disseminating alerts when there’s an emergency.

 

In the case of video surveillance, one thing to decide up front is whether it will be used for forensics or for real-time monitoring. Until video content analytics matures, real-time monitoring will continue to require a lot of people—not just because of the amount of cameras in a particular system, but also because fatigue sets in faster with the more feeds that each person has to monitor.

 

Schools at every level are increasingly deploying signage, surveillance, and another AV systems to be prepared. For those systems to do their job effectively, technology managers also need to be prepared to support them over the long term.

 

Since 1998, Tim Kridel has covered the tech and telecom industries for a variety of publications and websites, including AV Technology, Carrier Ethernet News, Digital Innovation Gazette, Pro AV, and InAVate. His coverage includes Carrier Ethernet, mobile apps, speech recognition, digital signage, FTTx, videoconferencing, Wi-Fi, and cellular. He can be reached at tim@timkridel.com.

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