Canadian systems integrator solves Sheridan College’s security problem

Published: June 18th, 2009

With technology from Cisco Systems Canada (Nasdaq: CSCO) and help from systems integrator, Unis Lumin, in the event of an emergency or security-related situation, Sheridan Institute of Technology & Advanced Learning can now immediately alert, staff, students and any other concerned individuals of an event at the moment it happens.

Oakville, Ont.-based Cisco and Microsoft partner, Unis Lumin, used Cisco’s unified communications (UC) technology, combined with Cisco’s unified application environment (UAE) to develop a comprehensive security and safety notification system offering for Sheridan’s three campus locations. The solution is better known as SIREN, or the Sheridan Incident Response and Emergency Notification system.

The solution is designed to work across all of Sheridan’s campuses which include locations in Oakville and Brampton, Ont. In the event of an emergency or security-risk, SIREN will immediately notify the necessary individuals or everyone at the school by sending information and alerts to the school’s 2,500 Cisco Unified IP Phones, digital signs, paging systems, wireless devices and its Web site. With an estimated 35,000 part-students and 15,000 full-time ones at the school, safety quickly came to the top of everyone’s mind.

Sumon Acharjee, director of IT at Sheridan, said that prior to implementing its SIREN solution, the school had another solution it was using to alert its staff and students. This solution was a culmination of multiple technologies, capabilities and resources that was complicated and complex to manage. Also, because of the potential seriousness of any given threat, the school wanted to make sure it would have a security and communication solution that would communicate effectively, beyond its previous PA-system.

“With our prior solution, we were using the PA system to get information out around the college,” Acharjee said. “The quality of the voices (on the PA) wasn’t that great. We have what we can an Emergency Preparedness Team at the school, which is made up of various faculty members and admins that tested out various situations and locations and one of the things they found was that while we had an adequate communication system, there were still some loops.”

As a result, Sheridan began looking for an alternative solution that would integrate and work with its existing Cisco network and IT platform.

With SIREN, the school can send out text-to-speech messages to phones across all campuses, as well as audio and/or text updates can be fed to the digital signs, which are located around the school. In addition, the solution also enables text messages to be sent to wireless devices such as mobile phones, PDAs and e-mail accounts, Acharjee said. Sheridan’s Web site will also feature messages right on the home page, and in the event of an emergency situation, SIREN will automatically connect individuals of the Sheridan Executive Team through a conference bridge line.

Mauro Lollo, co-founder and chief technology officer at Unis Lumin, said because the solution was integrated into the school’s existing network and infrastructure, staff members are able to use familiar interfaces to view information.

In the event of an emergency, certain building controls such as lowering the window shades and turning the lights off can all be done with the push of a button on the phone. As the system is extended, Lollo says there’s also the possibility of being able to use telephones as recorders too.

“As Sheridan grows, the (SIREN) system has the ability to scale with it,” Lollo said. “IP-enabled devices like overhead projectors, overhead audio loudspeakers and cameras can all be used as part of this solution.”

The implementation of the project took place in February and lasted about three months, Lollo said. While the system is ready to go now, Acharjee says the school intends to make the system run live sometime in the summer.

Moving forward, Lollo says he hopes to continue work with solutions like this one to perhaps commercialize the solution into some sort of “pseudo-shrink wrap software” that will cater to other types of businesses such as financial institutions, municipal governments, large organizations, and more.