How to boost
campus safety
and security
with situational
awareness technologies

Author: A.J. O'Connell

Many parents with children in college are understandably concerned about campus safety and security. Colleges can have a variety of safety issues, ranging from those that happen in the open, like motor vehicle theft, to more private crimes, like harassment, whether racial, sexual or other.

This range of potential problems can make it difficult for campus police officers to know exactly what crimes are happening across an entire college campus. Quick police response can be necessary to keep a crime from happening or worsening, so small police departments face a challenge when covering sprawling campuses or large student bodies.

Fortunately, technology can extend officers' reach and improve their situational campus safety and security awareness.

What is situational awareness for campus safety and security?

Situational awareness is an organization's knowledge and understanding of a current situation, risk or threat. An accurate understanding of the current situation allows campus safety and security to timely assess safety concerns and decide how to respond.

Situational awareness can apply to specific incidents, such as a fight on campus or a spill in a chemistry lab, or an event, such as a concert or protest. It can also apply to a specific risk factor, such as a rash of car thefts on campus, or to the general state of a college campus at the moment.

When campus security is prepared through situational awareness of potential risks or threats, officers can help maintain safety in college by responding quickly and mitigating a threat.

What challenges to safety in college are happening on campus?

Safety in college can be tricky because students who are away from home for the first time may sometimes lack situational awareness of their own. Campus safety is essentially policing a small city of young people who are pushing against their boundaries and trying new things. Given this environment, incidents are bound to occur.

Although crime occurs on most college campuses, certain risk factors contribute to an increase in crime. According to Best Colleges, the campuses with the most incidents are those with dormitories, those in or near large cities and those with high alcohol and drug use. Three of the most critical crimes to be wary of on college campuses are sexual assault, personal property theft and motor vehicle theft.

Sexual assault

Sex crimes are some of the most prevalent on college campuses. According to the U.S. Department of Education, about 10,000 of the almost 28,000 reported campus crimes in 2020 were forcible sex crimes, including rape, fondling and statutory rape. According to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, one in five women and one in sixteen men are sexually assaulted while in college. 90% go unreported, so the actual number of sex crimes on campus is likely much higher.

Personal property theft

Burglaries are also prevalent on college campuses, which are full of young people with expensive, portable devices. Property crime occurs on college campuses about every 10 minutes, leading to over 50,000 thefts and burglaries each year.

Motor vehicle theft

Motor vehicle theft is on the rise nationwide. Reports from colleges across the country detail a car theft trend on campuses, likely due to a rise in food delivery services; when drivers leave their cars unattended to pick up and drop off food, thieves can steal their vehicles.

Other common crimes threatening campus safety and security include aggravated assault and arson.

How to improve situational awareness on campus using technology

With the potential for various crimes, campus police have a challenge keeping on top of campus safety and security. Traditionally, campus safety officers have had to wait for a victim or witness to report a crime in order to respond. That can be too late; a stolen vehicle may be long gone and perhaps unrecoverable by the time its owner reports the theft.

New security tools, however, are changing that. By using new solutions, campus security forces can detect crimes as they're happening and intervene before property is damaged or people are hurt.

Intelligent video

Intelligent video pairs cameras with analytics. Rather than simply monitoring and recording an incident, the camera can notice and report what's happening. Intelligent cameras are able to identify a range of behaviors, such as loitering, theft or other suspicious activities. Once the camera recognizes an incident of interest, it will notify campus security so an officer can quickly appear on the scene. Thanks to high-quality video, campus safety may be able to see exactly what's happening and respond accordingly, potentially while the incident is in progress.


Campus safety can't be everywhere at once, but drones can give officers a bird's-eye view of a situation. Additionally, when an incident is reported, it may be quicker and easier to send out a drone to check out the scene than it is to dispatch an officer in some cases, particularly those where an officer may not be necessary.

Drones have many uses in campus security. They can survey the campus for suspicious activity, monitor traffic and crowds of people, make public safety announcements and help discourage loiterers. Drones can also help campus safety officers view rooftops and other hard-to-access areas.

Intelligent lighting

Lighting isn't often thought of as a security tool, but darkness is a criminal's best friend. When lights go out in a building or outside, for example, they should be replaced as soon as possible to keep students and staff safe at night. Intelligent lighting uses sensors to monitor, program and run diagnostics on lighting. When a light goes out, an alert is immediately sent to the department tasked with replacing it. When the sun goes down, lights are turned on, making sure no one is left in the dark.

5G and safety in college

With the help of better technologies, the number of reported crimes on campuses decreased by about 20% between 2009 and 2019, (from 34,100 to 27,300), and new security technologies are paving the way for an even safer future. The high-quality video and analytics the latest technology provides can generate an incredible amount of data.

The computing power and the volume of information all of these solutions generate can be overwhelming for networks with low capacity and high latency. 5G, however, could help ensure that these solutions can be implemented and run effectively. Thanks to the low latency and high capacity it can provide, it could allow large amounts of data to be accessed quickly, allowing campus security officers to maintain situational awareness and help keep both students and staff safe.

The author of this content is a paid contributor for Verizon.