Making Pitt Work: Josh Cochran
Pitt’s senior administration grabs most of the headlines. The faculty here get noticed when they bring in research dollars, win teaching awards or publish in their fields.
But behind the scenes, University staff, some 6,500 strong across five campuses, often toil in jobs ranging from the mundane to the esoteric.
From mailroom workers to data entry specialists, costume designers to biosafety officers, photographers to accountants, staff at Pitt perform tasks great and small, year-in and year-out, for the greater good of the University.
This is one in an occasional series profiling University staff, providing a glimpse of some of the less recognized employees whose primary business is making Pitt work.
From the corner of Forbes Avenue and Bigelow Boulevard, sharp-eyed observers can look to the rooftops of Hillman Library and the Cathedral of Learning and see that they perhaps are being observed in return.
The security cameras — two of nearly 400 installed in public areas indoors and out on the Oakland campus — are the handiwork of the Pitt police department’s Integrated Security Division.
Like its cameras, the division’s eight-member staff isn’t hidden, but keeps a low profile. Its five technicians crisscross the campus to install and maintain security systems and are on call 24 hours a day for emergencies. Although part of the police department, Integrated Security staffers are civilians, not uniformed police officers.
The division came into being three years ago, replacing a patchwork of individual security systems installed by subcontractors across campus, said manager Josh Cochran, who had been a security liaison before Pitt brought the system in-house.
“Our police department was being used to monitor all these systems when it was 60 or 70 systems on campus,” Cochran said. “It makes sense to have it within the police department because the police use it.”
Elsewhere, campus security typically is contracted to outside firms; in-house operations are likely to come under facilities or information technology areas, he said, adding that he knows of no other university in which security installations are housed within the police department.
Video surveillance cameras are posted on rooftops, in elevator lobbies and vestibules and on top of emergency phones across campus. Under Pitt police policy, they aren’t monitored regularly under normal conditions, but video from the cameras can be viewed from a bank of TV screens in the department’s security monitoring and command center in the Public Safety Building if circumstances warrant.
Cochran said the cameras serve as a “virtual patrol” not only to deter or view any potential criminal activity, but also to allow officers to get a closer look at traffic or activities on campus.
In combination with cameras atop the Public Safety Building and Sennott Square, the cameras mounted on the 25th floor roof of the Cathedral and on Hillman give the police department a bird’s-eye view of most of the campus and Oakland’s Forbes Avenue corridor.
Surveillance cameras are a relatively small part of the installations done by Integrated Security’s five technicians. “Access control is a bigger part of the job,” Cochran said, noting that while there are 300-400 cameras on campus, there are 10 times that many “access control points,” otherwise known as building entrances.
Among Integrated Security’s recent projects was an upgrade at the Petersen Events Center in which all the entrances were electrified to allow doors to be monitored and the building to be locked and unlocked automatically. Swipe cards enable staff to enter when the building is locked.
Remote lockdowns also can be controlled from the police command center in case of emergency. For instance, a building could be evacuated using Pitt’s emergency notification system, then locked once the building was empty, Cochran said.
Other security measures that fall under Integrated Security’s domain range from parking lot gates to the nitrate detector “sniffers” in BST3 to the bollards that keep vehicles from getting too close to the Cathedral of Learning.
Integrated Security’s technicians also install silent alarms, or panic devices, for use by receptionists, as well as motion sensors in labs or office suites that can be armed like a home security system when employees leave for the night.
In the wake of 9-11 and the shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007, college administrators across the nation have been prompted to scrutinize campus security at their institutions. While Pitt already was upgrading its systems, Cochran said scheduled security work was accelerated in the summer that followed the Virginia Tech shootings.
He noted there is special focus on security in the residence halls. “We’ve got to make sure residences are taken care of. That’s where people live. They need a sense of security to be able to live here and go to school here,” he said.
It takes between five and 10 years to upgrade the entire campus while keeping up with security installations in new buildings, Cochran said, adding that constant advances in technology mean that work will never be “done,” just ready for the cycle to start over again.
—Kimberly K. Barlow