Chicago college campuses improve security

May 17, 2013 (CHICAGO)

Now, colleges and universities are coming up with high tech solutions, and on one Chicago area campus, students are providing an innovative answer themselves.

There's safety in numbers, they say, but here Northwestern University, some students realized their peers were not heeding that advice.

"Five of the past six crime alerts were people walking alone," said Cassie Coravos, NU student.

And there was the case of student Harsha Maddula last year, who drowned in Wilmette Harbor after leaving a party alone. All of that inspired a group of Northwestern students to find protection through invention. The students are working on a Design for America team developing an app for smart phones called "Group Walk." Only students could access it, and it works simply by matching up students who are walking from one place to another at night.

And other Chicago college campuses are embracing high-tech tools, including an amazing array of electronic eyes.

Using surveillance cameras is not new, but what has changed is the number of cameras being used and how they're being utilized. At the University of Illinois Chicago campus, more than 1,000 cameras are watching what's going on.

"It gives us a tool to fight crime and protect the students and employees here at UIC," said Chief John Richardson, UIC Police Department.

At any moment on the campus, security technicians can see and record what's happening inside buildings and outside - on the quads, in the parking lots, even vehicles on the surrounding streets.

And for a major emergency, many of the cameras are directly accessible by the command center at the City of Chicago's Office of Emergency Management.

Unfortunately, the tragedies at Northern Illinois University and Virginia Tech make high-tech surveillance and alert systems an essential part of campus life.

At Loyola University, mass notification using loudspeakers, text messages or e-mails, can keep students away from danger.

"Clearly, being able to communicate effectively in the event of an emergency is a key thing," said Alan Cubbage, vice president, Northwestern University.

And on the South Side, University of Chicago students are testing a new smart-phone security app. It's called Pathlight. And it uses GPS technology to allow campus police to track students as they walk across campus alone or at night. The student turns it on or off.

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