According to the Campus Safety and Security (CSS) data provided by the U.S. Department of Education, on average more than 3,500 robberies and 2,000 fire accidents occur each year on US college campuses.

Given the large number of crimes, accidents and security breaches on campuses, it is important to develop and implement effective measures that can prevent, deter, detect and respond to safety incidents.

As a result of a recent grant proposal collectively presented to the National Science Foundation, a strong partnership formed between the departments of Information Technology Services, Computer Science and Computer Engineering, Sociology, and Electrical Engineering on the University of Arkansas Fayetteville (UAF) campus.

If funded, the grant aims to provide a safer and more secure environment for the UAF campus by building an intelligent cyber-infrastructure (CI). The results can be applied to enhance campus safety and physical security, as well as improve the cybersecurity of the campus network.

Many colleges, including the University of Arkansas, have implemented various measures aimed at improving campus safety and security. Almost all universities have an emergency notification system in place so that emergency information can be distributed en masse to the entire campus community via text messages, phone calls, emails, alarms, sirens, etc. Monitoring devices and sensors such as surveillance cameras and smoke detectors are installed to detect crimes and accidents. Many of these systems are deployed in an isolated manner. In addition, they usually operate with conventional power sources.

Specific Implementation

In today’s climate, UAF prefers to exceed traditional campus expectations as it pertains to the safety and security of its campus. “The grant will allow us to deploy an outdoor Wi-Fi network infrastructure and a sound sensor network, both powered by solar panels to provide reliability in power-outage scenarios, which are currently unavailable on the U of A campus,” said Qinghua Li, a faculty member in Computer Science. “The sound sensor network will be used to detect gunshots and explosions, and we will research detection algorithms. All these will enhance campus safety and security.”

The sensor network can also detect a trace amount of chemical dispersion. “These will be placed around the Chemistry and Biochemistry buildings,” Devyn Moore, Network Enterprise Systems team lead, said. “They can detect chemical changes in the atmosphere for chemical leaks.”

The collaborators hope to improve overall responsiveness to the emergency management process in a measurable, meaningful way. “If the cyber system detects smoke, a gunshot or an explosion, UAPD will be automatically contacted and sent the location of the disturbance,” Moore added. “It eliminates the possibility of human error and quickens response time.”

(Next page: Implications for UAF as an RI institution)

Rewards through Collaboration

While the award hasn’t been announced yet, the researchers consider the collaboration itself as an excellent example of an interdepartmental effort to address a variety of needs like safety, research, student engagement, support and more.

“It is exciting to see how seemingly-unrelated units around campus have an intersection of interest that pulled them together for this proposal,” Robert Saunders, assistant department head for Electrical Engineering, said. “And in talking to others around campus, this proposal has started pave the way for other collaborations among an even larger community the university.” A fuse has seemingly been lit in a truly exciting way.

“We’ve been given a short amount of time to get the proposal done, and everyone has been extraordinarily helpful and enthusiastic about partnering,” Moore said. “Through this partnership, we’ve been able to envision combining the theoretical with the practical realities of the network.”

As an R1 institution, it is also compelling that this award will result in a healthy research opportunity for students. A major portion of the grant will be used to recruit and support several graduate students to work on the proposed research. These students will work closely with faculty researchers and IT Services. The grant will also generate hands-on research and engineering projects for undergraduate students to work on and enhance their problem-solving skills. These students will gain tangible, relevant experience in the development of cyber-physical systems that can be used to improve campus safety and security. They will also obtain active data sets to develop algorithms to map traffic patterns, predict future patterns and give the campus a means to improve infrastructure for the future growth of the campus.

“Graduate students will be able to process near real-time data to develop algorithms to process a very large amount of information,” Saunders said.

“The partnership opens the doors for us to perform new research activities by using the data collected by IT Services,” Jingxian Wu, a faculty member in Electrical Engineering, said. “We will work on anomaly detection on the wireless communication data collected by IT Services. That is, we will be able to identify data patterns that do not conform to the expected patterns during normal system operations.”

From power to detection to response through prevention, the UAF team plans to address security as a total package. Regardless of grant award status, this ‘journey to a grant’ produced as much value as the envisioned destination. “Working together across reporting lines and plowing through traditional administrative and academic barriers has resulted in a well-worn path to collaborative innovation at the University of Arkansas Fayetteville,” said Paige Francis, associate CIO. “Collaboration is not just a pretty buzzword around here and we’re just getting started.”

Devyn Moore, Network Enterprise Systems team lead; Jingxian Wu, Electrical Engineering faculty; Qinghua Li, Computer Science faculty; Robert Saunders, Electrical Engineering assistant department head; and Grant Drawve, Sociology faculty collaborated on the proposal.

About NSF: The National Science Foundation funds research and education in most fields of science and engineering. It does this through grants and cooperative agreements to more than 2,000 colleges, universities, K-12 school systems, businesses, informal science organizations and other research organizations throughout the United States. The Foundation accounts for about one-fourth of federal support to academic institutions for basic research.

About the UAF: The University of Arkansas provides an internationally competitive education for undergraduate and graduate students in more than 200 academic programs. The university contributes new knowledge, economic development, basic and applied research, and creative activity while also providing service to academic and professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the University of Arkansas among only 2 percent of universities in America that have the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the University of Arkansas among its top American public research universities. Founded in 1871, the University of Arkansas comprises 10 colleges and schools and maintains a low student-to-faculty ratio that promotes personal attention and close mentoring.

About the Author:

Rachel Gerner is the executive assistant to the CIO at the University of Arkansas Fayetteville.

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