Unisa’s roots go back over 130 years, which makes it the oldest university in South Africa. Initially known as the University of the Cape of Good Hope, an examining body, the institution changed its name to the University of South Africa in 1916.
Unisa moved its headquarters from Cape Town to Somerset House, Vermeulen Street in Pretoria in 1918, and although it continued to be an examining body, it also incorporated a number of university colleges which later became fully autonomous teaching universities.
By 1944, a new vision of the institution as a teaching university was beginning to emerge and in 1946, Professor AJH van der Walt was asked to investigate the possibility of devising a system of postal or correspondence tuition for non-residential students. On 15 February 1946, the Division of External Studies was established. This transformed Unisa into a teaching university that became the pioneer of tertiary distance education in the Western world.
In 1948, the University expanded into the Transvalia building in Pretorius Street, Pretoria and in 1953 the division of external studies moved into the Administration building in Skinner Street, Pretoria. In 1972, the impressive new home on Muckleneuk Ridge was finally completed. The first phase took more than four years to build.
Today Unisa boasts 30 offices nationally and internationally and has 350 000 students registered for a vast array of qualifications.
With this phenomenal growth, as well as the steady increase in crime in the preceding years, it became critical to address the streamlining of a technology-driven security system.
“Not only did this system need to detect, monitor and deter criminal activity, but there was an increasing demand for a system that would cater to the large numbers of students visiting our facilities,” Unisa’s projects and regional support manager, Martin Bezuidenhout told Hi-Tech Security Solutions.
“In the past we have had an open door policy at Unisa whereby students and the general public were able to enter our properties and even go directly to lecturer and administration staff offices without checking in anywhere. Unfortunately, the decline in the safety of our local environment at the main campus in Muckleneuk and other campuses forced us to consider security measures that go beyond guarding.
“In order to mitigate the security risk, we embarked on a market research project to determine the exact technology available to suit our very specific and predetermined needs,” he added. Unisa does not rely on external sources and suppliers to determine the best solutions for their various applications, but instead provides prospective suppliers with a clearly defined list of the products it requires then requests pricing.
In 2000 the university was investigating the possibility of introducing smartcards, but due to the financial constraints on this proposed system, it has not to date been finalised. “The Security Risk Division then decided that in order to eliminate any further delays in finalising a security system it was incumbent upon them to proceed with their own strategy,” said Bezuidenhout.
“We launched a pilot project in 2002 with access control as the major driver. We evaluated the success and applicability of the tested product then conducted a further product research project in 2007. This project focused around products and installers with a national footprint and with a service capability suited to our own national needs,” he explained.
“We looked at a number of excellent products but at the end of the day settled on Impro as our national standard because of their ability to provide a comprehensive national aftermarket service to our various regional offices. Impro had approximately 350 different installation and integration teams, at various experience and capacity levels, involved in the process. All these teams were required to work to the levels of workmanship imposed by both Impro and ourselves.”
“We used a scientific model developed by the Institute of Criminological Sciences at Unisa to quantify our risk. This was then used as the platform to identify inherent risks at Unisa’s campuses and to identify the specific locations where access control and CCTV was required to mitigate the risk,” said Bezuidenhout.
He explains that they have used a combined layered and concentric approach to risk analysis. “The outer circle is the campus perimeter security – measuring who is coming in and going out; followed by the building perimeter; then finally inside the building. This latter would include areas like the IT server room and the exam paper storerooms.
“At the same time the model is one of a pyramid approach, with the low risk (outer circle) being the large area at the bottom of the pyramid, moving up to the apex that represents the inner circle, which represents the areas of high risk. This means that visitors need to move through these various layers before reaching high risk areas,” he clarified. “We are trying to indicate to any potential criminals, through our very visible access control and detection equipment, that we are serious about our approach to security. We would rather provide deterrents than have to follow the prosecutory route.”
Unisa has invested a substantial amount of money in its security initiative, with close on R60 million being allocated to perimeter access control systems, CCTV, internal access control systems and a communications backbone.
Bezuidenhout said that ironically, because the system is based on a loss frequency risk assessment model it has in some ways become its own enemy. “The system has reduced crime to such negligibly low levels, that it is very difficult for us to justify to the shareholders the allocation of further funds for periodic updates.”
He explained that the university has adopted an attitude of outsourcing non-critical functions. “We currently have a 30/70 balance, with the former being permanent Unisa security provision/risk assessment employees and the latter being contractual employees such as security guards.
“We have an extensive and sophisticated system that includes the card readers at the main gate and subsidiary gates at Muckleneuk campus and other campuses, coupled to entry booms linked to the card readers.
“We also have card readers and turnstiles at various internal locations and booths at selected locations; Bosch CCTV high definition cameras at carefully defined locations; a fully-equipped control room; and the communications backbone that all security systems reside on. We are constantly rolling out access control, surveillance and other supporting electronic security systems installations at the main campus and regional offices of the university. Some time and attendance is incorporated into our access control, although it is not a traditional T&A system.”
Traditional plus hi-tech
“Probably the biggest challenge we faced was the sheer number of potential users on the system. Apart from our own staff, we have 350 000 students and a number of external visitors to the various campuses,” said Bezuidenhout. “This has resulted in a huge database of regular and ad hoc users, all who require a colour coded access card, programmed to allow them access into specific core areas.”
Such is the challenge posed by the size of this project that Bezuidenhout suggested the team be expanded to include a person with a highly technical background. “Bernard van Zyl, who worked on a number of security technology projects at the CSIR, joined us in 2010 and, together with consulting engineers, has brought the entire project to fruition by developing specifications and overseeing installations.
“We have married the customary guarding solution to the high-tech solution to produce a security system that has no equal amongst its counterparts in South Africa,” boasted Bezuidenhout.
According to Van Zyl, this is probably one of the first academic institutions to move from having a dedicated security communications infrastructure, towards one whereby they have piggybacked onto the Unisa ICT network to provide a truly integrated building system.
“We decided that instead of just serving a pure security role, the system could also be used to provide critical information for control, monitoring and intervention. This is especially important in the library where there is always a large number of people concentrated in an area with limited exit routes. Impro wrote customised body counting software for this purpose,” said Van Zyl.
“The system also ensures that non-Unisa students are prohibited from entering the library and using its facilities as they have done in the past. By programming each student’s card, dependent on their learner status, for example undergraduate or post graduate, we can allocate a certain number of library seats to each category and control the influx of students to levels that are acceptable by the fire authorities.”
Analogue to IP
“With the increased bandwidth and higher video compression now available, the issues around overloading of communications backbones became a moot issue,” said Bezuidenhout. The project has entailed a systematic migration from analogue to digital technology.
“In addition, the pre-existing 150 analogue cameras are currently being converted to IP because of the increased image resolution offered. This upgrading to higher resolution is essential so that we can use these images for internal investigation, in conjunction with the SAP.
“With old analogue surveillance systems you cannot grab a facial image and enlarge it, whereas with the new IP system footage, you can zoom in and make accurate facial identification through megapixel enlargement after the event. This provides the investigating officer with more evidence to work with to secure an arrest.
“We are also converting some of the low risk analogue cameras to Ethernet and incorporating them into the IP system,” he added. In total, Unisa has 720 cameras throughout its nationwide campuses, including indoor wall and ceiling mounted versions and external models.
There are multifunction terminals at the doors with access control card readers and biometric fingerprint readers in the secure and more critical areas. With the new Impro iTRT, an IP-based controller, the access-controlled door will be equipped with a local 10 000 transaction buffer and zero downtime firmware update.
In addition, the system can in the future be used to feed information on which students attend lectures and whether their attendance is related to their final exam marks, back to the university’s student support and service departments. This would allow a statistical analysis of each student’s study patterns and provide data for future suggestions in terms of the trends analysed.
Van Zyl added that all data acquired would provide audit reports to management of high-risk areas on access data. “This data can then be utilised to identify and tackle areas of risk with regard to safety and security measures.
“We have had to address the limitations to our current network capacities and capabilities to ensure that we are up to speed for our link-up to the South African National Research Network (SANReN) which ensures sharing of information across all the major universities via a fibre network. Unisa ICT is also currently upgrading its network infrastructure. This will be a boon for our CCTV live streaming plans so we are very excited.”
Future plans include the establishment of a totally centralised control room, whereby all campus data will feed into the Muckleneuk control room. “In addition, we will be revisiting the smartcard project to provide the ultimate integrated solution,” Bezuidenhout concluded.
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