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Heather Abrey Photo

Heather Abrey Photo

Natalie Metherel, left and Barb Eichholz search for a “suspicious person” during a security training exercise at Conestoga College on Wednesday morning.

Conestoga boasts high-tech security cameras

By Heather Abrey
Kitchener Post staff

Security camera images released by police are often blurry, pixelated and of little use, sometimes even when they come from institutions like banks. But at Conestoga College, new digital IP cameras mean security has a clear picture, even when zooming up close, and can track someone’s movement throughout the school.

The upgrading process began three years ago, when the college brought in three new hybrid servers that would allow them to run both analog and IP cameras at the same time.

They partnered with Bulldog Fire and Security systems, as well as Securitas for personnel, and from there have been upgrading periodically as funding becomes available, according to Don Willis, director of safety and security at Conestoga.

“In the last few years [the security department] has grown significantly, but that’s because the college has grown significantly,” said Willis, adding that Conestoga is now Ontario’s fastest growing college, with more than 10,000 fulltime students and 7,500 people on campus at any given time.

The new, high-definition Axis cameras allow security guards to monitor the school, but also record evidence for police in the event of an incident. Security staff can review the video quickly to get a better description of a suspicious person, while simultaneously monitoring the situation as it develops and updating police, if necessary.

“Reviewing the CCTV is a big part of the investigation,” said Willis. “It’s been a good tool in terms of using that evidence. The police are quite happy with our camera system.”

Being able to pinpoint the location of the incident also lets security guards quickly lead police or other emergency services to the scene.

“They don’t have to spend half an hour going, ‘Where the heck is the sanctuary?’ The guards will path-find right there,” said Willis.

In addition, while Conestoga has an escort program for people who are nervous about walking alone, if no one is available to walk with a student or staff member, security guards can use the cameras to monitor a specific person as they walk across campus.

Past incidents in the US and Canada have raised concerns about active shooters — something that Waterloo Regional Police specifically train for. But security staff run training exercises for similar situations as well.

“In the event of an active shooter, we do training scenarios with guards to . . . minimize the damage,” said Willis. “Our goal is to use the equipment we have to help get people out of the way.”

Security guards can use the cameras to track and predict the path of the shooter. They practice locating a person wearing a security vest in the place of a suspicious person. A mock call will come in describing the person and the general area, and staff use the various cameras, which are grouped in areas for easy sorting, to locate the suspect.

But it’s not just student safety that has benefitted from the new systems — students in the protection, security and investigation program have their own mock security desk in the school’s F-Wing. Students get the chance to work with equipment that they will encounter in the work world, and have the ability to monitor four cameras while also running periodic controls.

Trevor Wey, a second-year student who has been working in the field for a year, is pleased with the practical aspects of the program.

“I’m a hands-on learner, so I think this is kind of stuff is awesome,” he said. “I think it’s really paramount to the course.”

Students conduct patrols, but wear shirts that identify that they are not security guards.

“We didn’t want any confusion about who do I go to in an emergency,” said Willis. “I really welcomed it because it’s more eyes and ears.”

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