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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, December 22, 2003

UH team thwarts thefts, vandalism in building

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer

Cheeseburgers jammed into CD-rom drives. Super Glue in floppy disc drives. Rearranged or missing computer keys. Thousands of attempted hacks into the system.

It's the kind of vandalism that has cost the University of Hawai'i thousands of dollars over the past few years, Brian Chee says.

But perhaps no longer.

Chee and others from the Information and Computer Science Department in the Pacific Ocean Science and Technology Center have created a cheap and effective surveillance and security system that has cut to zero the break-ins, loss and damage in the information technology area over the past six months.

The same type of system may be implemented elsewhere, too, but the ICS system is the first up and running, Chee said.

With campus security on many people's minds because of recurring break-ins and thefts,the fairly inexpensive solution — the ICS video surveillance system cost between $15,000 and $20,000 — is receiving interest campuswide.

Chuck Hayes, interim dean of the College of Natural Sciences, is delighted with the security system now protecting the computer labs and other areas in the POST building and hopes the same technology can be applied to other critical areas, especially science laboratories where there have been thefts of chemicals.

"We've had burglary after burglary here," Hayes said. "There's been trouble in the music building, in Bilger Hall (which contains science laboratories).

"All we've done now is to see that the system works and the next thing is to decide where we want to put them. Science buildings would be the wise thing to do. The plan is to consider doing it all over the place."

The state and students lost $350,000 worth of property in 97 burglaries on the Manoa campus in 2002, and in the first seven months of this year the campus has recorded 81 incidents with a loss of $127,000.

At midyear, the campus security force had five to seven officers on each of three daily eight-hour shifts. Security was increased overnight on weekends, yet the break-ins have continued. That has prompted individual departments to take their own security measures.

Now the campus is looking at 24-hour monitoring using the ICS-designed system as a prototype and dovetailing it into security systems elsewhere, said Chee.

"We have done presentations on the technology to other departments," said Chee, systems programmer in ICS. "We're not a support group. It's not our job. But, if people come and ask us, we'd be more than happy to provide the information. There are kits available to do this, but they're more expensive. Ours we did on a shoestring and got very creative, with lab manager Nolan Oshiro designing the system."

With cameras mounted as surveillance first in the labs and then in the hallways of the ICS department, there hasn't been a loss since signs were put up that the area is under constant video surveillance, said Chee.

"Even if you kick the power out, our cameras keep recording," he said. "The students have relayed to us they feel safer in this environment now, especially since computer science students work late into the evening."

The images caught on the surveillance cameras are stored in several secret places around campus, said Chee, so they won't be lost if one camera should be damaged. Images will be burned onto CDs for a permanent record, he said, and are admissible in court.

"Custodial people say they've seen people pop their heads in the fire door, see our signs and instantly boogie out of there," Chee said. "People who look like they're casing the joint are no longer coming around."

The motion-activated video cameras provide high-resolution pictures in full color, Chee said.

Reach Beverly Creamer at bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8013.