Virginia Tech is working toward camera-covered campus

Virginia Tech will spend almost $1 million on new digital security cameras.

Ken might look like one of the crash-test dummies, but he doesn’t get banged around. Rather, he is a sort of film star, used to evaluate the best sites around Virginia Tech to place new digital security cameras.

Ken and his handlers from Northern Virginia-based X7 Systems Integration are working under a nearly $1 million contract to install a networked video security system around campus.

Ken’s job is to stand very still while cameras film him, so technicians can assess the quality of images at various locations.

Since the April 16, 2007, campus shootings, the university has become a testing ground and even model for campus safety, including an extensive threat assessment program.

The project could result in up to 2,500 security cameras being installed around the 2,600-acre campus over the next several years, and add one more layer to Tech’s security efforts.

“You never stop trying to make the campus safer,” university spokesman Mark Owczarski said.

The contract with X7 Systems, dated April 2011, allows for three phases of the project, including the already completed $221,098 installation of cameras in the Perry Street parking garage that opened last year. Phase two of the project will upgrade the approximately 250 cameras scattered across campus.

That work is expected to be completed by December and cost $708,736, Owczarski said.

The initial three-year agreement can be renewed for up to five additional years, and could include a third phase of installations of up to 2,500 cameras, contract documents show.

“The university has not defined what it seeks in a phase three,” Owczarski said. So no dollar amount has been assigned for that phase.

For a decade or more, there have been security cameras on campus, but the technologies and the oversight have been decentralized. They range from cameras on automated teller machines installed and monitored by banks to a camera trained on a piece of the moon kept in the dean of engineering’s suite.

While cameras already are part of campus life, “what hasn’t been in place is a policy and a directive to manage them more effectively,” Owczarski said.

Police have talked about a centralized security camera system for years, Owczarski said. Now with the X7 contract, that process is under way.

The centralized system includes a strict acceptable-use policy for the cameras and those who monitor them, and it outlines ethical and legal guidelines, as well as regulations for archiving and using footage.

The policy also establishes a five-member Surveillance Oversight Committee, including representatives from Tech police, student affairs, facilities, emergency management, and university relations to review all requests for cameras.