College Galleries


Colleges and universities have unique security problems. From time to time we all face a few of these issues but what is different about the galleries that serve higher educational facilities is that they face most of them on a daily basis. This section of the website will address some of these issues and offer solutions that might be useful to many. This website was introduced June 1, 2011 and is still under construction. Content is being added weekly.

A few of the primary issues these institutions face are:

  1. 1.Many are required to provide employment to students as guards or gallery attendants. This results in scheduling and attendance issues and usually means that a large portion of the security force lacks any real security experience or even significant life experience. In some environments that also serve the broader community like children, hiring students can be an advantage but generally, student guards are not optimum.

Solution: Finding jobs for students is good and serves the university’s goals. But the museum must balance its responsibility to protecting the collection with a desire to employ its students. A compromise can probably be reached where the museum retains a number of full time permanent positions so there is always an experienced guard on post nearby. And students need closer supervision so it should be provided--by trained full time supervisors. Hiring students as guards may or may not produce economic savings but economy should not be your goal at the expense of good security. Hire students if you must, for the good of the students and the educational mission but keep your perspective and don’t see student help as a path to solving your budget shortfall.

  1. 2.University galleries are often classified as “mixed use of space”. High value assets or collections on loan may be adjacent to areas of the building occupied 24/7 by faculty, staff or classes. Occasionally, in older or poorly designed facilities, students and staff on their way to class or offices may even have to come and go through collection areas.

Solution:  This is not a complex issue unless the building was built without a way of securing the galleries when the museum is closed to the public and other facilities are open. Galleries need doors that can be locked and the alarm system must be zoned so galleries can be alarmed independently of other galleries. Individual objects displayed in public corridors, like larger sculptures, can be alarmed using video analytics. And exhibit cases in public corridors, if you must have them, can be built secure and alarmed.

  1. 3.Teaching facilities teach in galleries and in collection storage areas. Classes in galleries differ slightly from normal gallery lectures except that they can occur before galleries open or after they close, even at night, making it difficult to provide security. And classes in collection storage, often conducted by just one instructor, can result in access to items on shelves or in cabinets that can be stolen.

Solution:  The Recommended Guidelines for Museum Security, which can be found elsewhere in this website under the button “Guidelines and Standards” addresses this with a specific standard. The standard does not permit a single instructor to teach a class in collection storage alone and requires additional observers to escort a student who must leave, use the restroom or who lingers in another portion of the vault instead of keeping up with the instructor.

  1. 4.Too many colleges use interns or other students for work alone in storage or in other collection bearing areas. It is often impossible to do background checks on students that might be conducted on employees and even if you did a background check, it is not likely to find a juvenile record of dishonesty.

Solution:  Students, interns, and volunteers should not work unattended in storage. This is not what you wanted to hear, perhaps, but it is the only solution. Graduate students who must work with collections should be treated as employees. Follow good procedures. Don’t allow purses and other computer type bags into storage. Keep cabinets that the student does not need access to locked.

  1. 5.The liberal attitude in many academic institutions sometimes results in prohibitions on background screening of university employees. At least one Ivy League school will not allow background checks of its museum employees.

Solution:  This is a real problem and is unwise. Generally, these colleges will not make an exception for museums. The museum must then take extra care to check references--even develop references--to gather as much information as they can on the applicant. Developing a reference is a technique where you ask one reference if they can recommend a second person who also knows the applicant who might offer a reference then calling that person before the applicant contacts him. In addition, review the application and conduct the interview carefully. Make the applicant account for every past gap in employment. “Leaving to take a better job”, then having a few weeks between jobs may be a clue that the applicant was terminated.

  1. 6.Some colleges have documents that express certain rights for students and faculty. Some include “complete access” to teaching areas of the buildings that give after hour access to classrooms located within museums. Many of these classrooms have exhibit cases or even unsecured paintings used in lectures which become exposed due to the open access policy.

Solution:  Any collections displayed outside the secure perimeter of the museum or in classrooms must be in a secure display case or wall vitrine. They can be removed by the instructor if necessary but must be secure at other times. Cases should be alarmed. And cameras in these spaces with video motion detection is not inappropriate.

  1. 7.Many universities have established standardized technology for security. They have, for example, established a specific alarm system to be used campus wide or a specific access control system product. In some cases this is not a problem but when the product chosen was chosen for the economy or convenience of the people who must maintain it, the “lowest common denominator” is often achieved and the products do not meet the needs of the museum which has unique security problems.

Museum managers need to consult with outside experts to make sure that the products offered can be used. More than one college makes its gallery use an access control system that is not UL listed for alarm monitoring. Ask if other exceptions are made at the university at other high security areas like the nuclear reactor, veterinary clinic or hospital pharmacy. Why were exceptions made for these facilities but not for yours? Why was the system rejected for use in, say, a pharmacy? If it is inadequate there it is probably inadequate for the museum.  The desire for one access control system serving the entire campus is based on a desire to have one card fit all. Responding campus police or Facility people need quick access to every building using one master card key. And the university prefers to have one card key for ID, debit card, vending machines and access. Many of the systems capable of doing this are not UL listed for use in a museum for alarm monitoring and others that are may not be under the actual control of the public safety department. Many, in fact, are under the control of the housing unit and card keys are actually produced by student helpers. In some, magnetic stripe card reader technology is used instead of proximity technology and mag stripe is not as secure and copies of cards can be made.

Consult outside expertise on this issue as it is among the most complex that you face. Consider using the same brand system to facilitate service and support but have your own server so you alone control making of card keys. If this is not possible, require that the university’s access control system be partitioned so the museum has its own partition and cards for the museum doors can’t be made by anyone but the museum. If the issue is the CCTV system, this can generally be overcome but you need advice from a consultant who understands museum security issues.

Note that the Security Committee of AAM has identified a trend that adversely effects security and that is that se can often become less secure by improperly applying technology. This is an example of this and is among the most important we face. Recently identified trends will be a theme for AAM during 2011 and 2012.

  1. 8.Most universities have their own central station operation where a dispatcher receives alarms and monitors cameras campus wide. To my knowledge, not one is UL Certified for monitoring a museum’s alarm systems and most dispatchers are pre-occupied with parking issues and give emphasis to life safety issues, as they should. All one would need to do to have the alarm at the museum ignored is to pull the panic alarm at a parking lot’s Code Blue station and everything else comes to a halt. National standards require that the museum’s alarm system be monitored by a UL listed certified central station. UL procedures assure that diversions are unlikely and museum alarms get the response they require.

Solution:  Install a dialer to a UL listed central station and designate this as “primary monitoring”. The system is capable of dialing two central stations. Designate monitoring by campus police as “secondary monitoring”. This is merely a technical difference but meets the insurance company’s requirements as well as requirements by lenders. The small monthly monitoring cost is minimal for the amount of additional security you gain.

With regard to CCTV, not one college central station we are aware of actively monitor gallery activity on camera feeds sent to them. They CAN do so if they wanted, but they do not actively monitor. Anywhere. They have far more to do than watch people wander your galleries. Yet they often insist that they have this capability. It has never prevented a theft and has never led to an arrest or recovery. Not once. This often wastes tens of thousands of dollars of the museum’s money. Museum managers should make the college public safety chief justify why he needs this expensive camera feed. We acknowledge that they do need sufficient information to safely respond to the museum for an alarm at night. But they almost never need more video data than that. Don’t provide it. Use your funding for something that provides real security, not a cool toy for the dispatch center.

  1. 9.Some of the greatest minds in the world reside on campus. The campus network is a target to every computer technology student who ever hacked anything. While most college networks are secure and are rarely off line, they do have vulnerabilities in spite of what the IT people at the college will tell you. Nevertheless the policy is almost always that the link between the museum’s alarm panel and the monitoring point must be the university-wide computer network. This small but real vulnerability does not exist in other museums, only college museums. Why does it exist? Generally, the reason is that the college has resolved to save money by standardizing on one hardware system and by monitoring all of their alarm panels themselves. Unfortunately, they do not commit the funds to establish a UL listed central station to do it right.

Solution:  The only way that the museum’s alarm and access control systems are really secure is if they are totally dedicated to the museum, if the server and control panels are located in the building they protect, and the network that carries their signals is dedicated exclusively to the museum. The common university network should not be used. This is a big issue and sometimes it can’t be achieved. If there is no way to eliminate use of the network, insist on a dedicated server within the museum to control the system and transmit alarms to the off-site central station via phone lines and back up cellular. You might still be subject to hacking or denial of service attacks but some college IT people simply won’t give in, assured of their own perfection. Make them take personal responsibility for their decision. This often is sobering in the university environment where consensus management is the style and encourages them to make an exception for you.

You may not be able to battle this battle yourself. Consultant a security consultant who knows this issue.

  1. 10.The Facilities Department has 24 hour access to everything. No exceptions.They often schedule HVAC and other maintenance at night. If the museum is not guarded at night by a guard, someone outside the museum needs the ability to turn off the alarms. Some colleges even clean the museum at night, giving the alarm code to the head custodian so he can let the other workers in.

Solution:  Facilities needs the access but they do not need to be able to turn off the alarms. Make them schedule maintenance that can only be done after hours so it is not a surprise. When they do enter, they will set off the alarm. This is generally a deterrent to a facility employee using his key to steal. Campus Police must be required to respond and make note of who caused the alarm and their reason.  They should not have access to collection storage vaults, safes, etc. If they absolutely insist on this access there are ways it can be provided but this can be costly. Consult your security consultant about using an alarmed rapid entry key box for this purpose.

Cleaning should never occur after hours in a museum. There is absolutely no reason this can’t be scheduled during the day. It is less convenient and less elegant but it is far more secure.

There are many challenges for college galleries. The Public Safety office can be an ally or an obstruction. The museum director must stand firm and insist on the best security possible. Among the best arguments for “doing it right” are the need to meet the national standards as defined in the “Suggested Guidelines” in order to qualify for loans and accreditation and the museum’s standing among peer institutions.

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College and University Galleries Face Unique Security Issues