Integrating School Security Systems

If your school is like most, surveillance video has long been relied on to protect against vandalism, theft and other crimes common in education environments. The abundance of surveillance cameras scattered in schools attests to just how seriously administrators take security. When schools decide to replace or increase video cameras due to campus growth or changes and evolving security goals, many discover operational efficiencies and cost benefits of converging legacy equipment with newer, more sophisticated systems that are integrated into the school’s IT infrastructure.

Benefits of Converging Physical Security Assets With IT Infrastructure
Based on what I’ve seen in schools that have successfully moved to IP video, three advantages of the physical security-IT convergence are:
  1. the ability to build upon existing video investments;
  2. the ability to maximize performance of the surveillance network; and
  3. most importantly, the ability to share video with school administrators and law enforcement to help reduce and resolve crimes.

Leverage the Present, Plan for the Future

With typical legacy systems, maintenance is difficult due to video surveillance systems that are made up of many different brands of cameras, DVRs and software purchased and installed by different integrators. Many times when an incident occurs it requires a different procedure and/or a different person to sufficiently address the issue, while notably, the quality of each system may vary depending upon the individual integrator’s level of experience, knowledge of the school’s objectives and technical capabilities. I often hear how difficult it has become to maintain these legacy systems.

Many schools are unaware that it is possible to leverage existing technology while still making the transition to IP cameras. By adding encoders, it is possible to give analog cameras digital functionality and install them on the network along with IP cameras. This makes it possible for schools to leverage their existing equipment while still making the transition to more flexible IP technology. Both analog cameras with encoders and IP cameras can be managed with video management software, making control of the entire surveillance system easy and convenient. This is an excellent way for schools to protect their investment in existing equipment while building for the future.

Integration Maximizes Ease of Use, Performance
Unlike legacy video technology, which requires specialized equipment (a VCR) or even digital CCTV systems, which are closed-looped systems that require cabling and camera linkage directly to the digital video recorder (DVR), true network video solutions offer the flexibility and convenience of integrating directly with the existing IT network. This allows for scalability and ease of use that was never before possible. With network video, cameras can be easily added to the system.

Another upside of network video is convenience — it literally takes only seconds to locate and view live or recorded video with the click of a mouse. Once integrated onto the school’s network, video images become digital files that can be quickly reviewed, transferred, e-mailed or stored. Previously, tapes had to be copied and mailed, and delays in investigations occurred when events needed to be reviewed quickly. Even in the case of DVRs — it may not be possible to view video across multiple locations housing different DVRs — adding an extra step of work to the process of transferring and using video.

Staff, Law Enforcement Have Access to Shared Video
The technology shift from analog to digital has resulted in video becoming a completely different animal than its legacy cousin. Now there is potential to truly transform video into a proactive tool by sharing it with more staff members, as well as with public safety agencies such as law enforcement and fire departments.

Staff Access
With IP video residing on the IT network, camera views can be configured to an individual user’s specific wants and needs. Customized views are set up to pull live video from cameras that are deployed in areas of specific interest to each user. For example, secretaries can monitor the front door and identify visitors to the school, while teachers and administrative staff can monitor students at the bus queue. The SRO's view may be set to monitor busy hallways and the cafeteria to prevent problems as students move between classes.

Public Safety Access

During an emergency response situation, immediate access to information is essential to the incident command staff (those that deploy emergency resources). From a response perspective, everything that is happening at the scene of the emergency is critical. The deployment of resources, such as law enforcement or fire fighters may be strategically enhanced based on intelligence from live video. Law enforcement has, and will continue, to respond to an active shooter scenario, but consider how their response can be enhanced if they are aware of exactly where in the building the shooter is located. Similarly, consider how the fire department’s response can be enhanced if the video system could identify the location of students trapped by a fire inside the building. In order to establish video as a proactive tool, schools should take the following steps to ensure a successful, effective implementation.

Schools with network video may provide the police or fire department with a link via a Web browser where they can pull up live video from cameras on campus. The school should make determinations regarding any usage limitations or conditions before granting access. For example, the school may offer law enforcement full access to camera views any time, any place. Or, the school may wish to limit video access to the incident command staff at their command center. The IT administrator may choose to administer a one-time-only username and password that is valid for one login only. Once it has been used, another must be issued, enabling the school to verify when the remote application is being used and limiting access, for privacy reasons, to genuine emergencies. There are many other creative ways to control access if necessary. However, browser-based remote access to video is critical to enable simple, reliable access when it is needed.

Schools should work in coordination with emergency responders in an effort to validate the remote access process by conducting periodic tests to ensure that the solution continues to be operational and that everyone remains fluent in the use of the system. An innovative approach would be having the local fire department monitor and assess a fire drill by watching the evacuation process via the network video system. This training will both improve system familiarity while testing functionality.

For schools that choose to offer unlimited access, law enforcement may use video on a regular basis for more than just emergencies. In many localities, police are responsible for periodic monitoring of schools, which can be accomplished more efficiently with remote access. Unlimited access has its advantages as the more law enforcement uses the system, the more familiar they will be with it and the more efficient and useful it will be in the case of a real emergency.

School administrators need not be experts in IP technology or video surveillance to successfully implement security systems. They only need to be focused on creating safe learning environments and thinking through how they can use available technologies on a daily basis to achieve that goal. Security professionals, IT staff and solution providers can all bring technology expertise, but the most critical success factor is determining how and by whom these technologies will be used. Thanks to IP video, it is possible to easily share, distribute and use video on a regular basis. The capabilities are limited only by the team's ability to devise uses for the video.

Jeff Floreno serves as director of Security Operations and Strategy for Wren, providers of physical security solutions that create safe learning environments. He can be reached at jeff.floreno@wrensolutions.com.

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