- By Jeff Floreno
- March 1st, 2011
It is rewarding to see how video applications are continually expanding and seem to be limited only by the imagination. Once considered exclusively as a resource for investigating an incident after it occurred, video is now used with regularity as a tool for security, operations, training, regulatory compliance and various other purposes. From a rarely-used “back up” tool to an essential source of data used on a daily basis, video has taken its place among other critical data systems in schools, as well as organizations of all types.
While most schools have been using video for years now, most are still not using it to its full potential. One method for expanding the use of video beyond security applications in a single school is to manage these systems at the district-level. Centralizing the management and monitoring of video is the first step to its strategic utilization, which provides superintendents and district-level staff the opportunity to promote and enhance operational efficiency, security, safety and compliance across multiple campuses and achieve consistent performance across facilities.
Why Not Now?
Given the obvious benefits of managing video at the district level, why are so many schools not doing it? There are several reasons, but mostly it boils down to not taking the time to discuss options with a subject matter expert. Investing in video is not just about buying cameras. As schools explore options, they should ensure that their video provider can lead them through discussions about leveraging surveillance systems. Together, the school and the technology provider should map out the school’s needs not only for today, but also for the future.
In some cases, schools do not have the surveillance hardware, software or the infrastructure capable of transmitting video across the IT network. Onerous, antiquated video systems may not offer easy access to or use of video, causing its utility to plummet. In these cases, the school may simply need to wait until it is time to replace the existing system and upgrade to an IP video solution. With legacy systems, limited use of existing video systems should be expected.
But in other cases, schools have access to fully functional network video systems and still fail to maximize use of video. The school may simply lack a strategic vision or a plan to drive usage beyond responding to an incident. Or, there may be a lack of process or ownership making district-level management of video difficult. In any case, consideration must be given to the strategic uses for video in order to maximize its benefits to schools.
The following are some of the ways that video can be used at the district level to benefit schools.
Evaluate and improve operational processes
— Sometimes overlooked is the importance of operational processes in schools. Everything from a safe and smoothly running carpool line to well-managed cafeteria lines to crowd management at special events are operational processes that are important to schools. Ensuring that these processes are both safe and efficient can greatly improve efficiency and comfort on campus. At the district level, superintendents and staff can use video to evaluate these operational processes first-hand at each school. They can identify campuses that need assistance in shoring up processes and can also identify best practices at schools that have found an ideal solution and share those ideas district-wide, via video.
— Schools are issued state mandates and superintendents are responsible for helping to ensure that these programs are implemented across all schools. However, it can be extremely challenging for administrators to track and ensure universal implementation. Video provides a way for administrators to clearly verify whether or not procedures have been implemented and followed. For example, if schools are required to conduct a certain number and type of emergency drills, superintendents can use video, not only to verify that schools are regularly conducting drills, but also to evaluate and improve the effectiveness of those drills. For example, by putting an unexpected barrier in front of an exit door during a fire drill, the superintendent can evaluate the students’ and staff’s ability to respond in real-time, and improve or modify training as necessary.
Conduct remote validation
— Regularly monitoring security and safety processes can be a challenging and tedious task for administrators. Verifying that doors are not propped open during the day, or that visitors are being properly processed and escorted throughout their visit to the school are just two examples of how video can enable the superintendent to monitor the safety and security of different schools.
— Because seeing is believing, there is perhaps no better illustrative tool than video. Situations that can be explained leave a lot more to the imagination than situations that can be seen. When training staff on what to do or NOT to do in a particular situation, video clips can be extremely valuable and much more detailed than a verbally delivered case study. For example, viewing video of an emergency evacuation of the school can be extremely valuable for instructing both staff and students on key points. If staff led students out into the parking lot, precisely where emergency vehicles would be queuing, superintendents can note the problem and provide training to address it.
Ensure regulatory compliance
— Schools are under tremendous pressure to comply with fire, safety and other regulations imposed by regulatory agencies, as well as state laws. Failure to comply with some of these mandates, such as fire codes, can result in steep fines or even temporary closure of facilities. Video is a great way to ensure compliance at a district level. Simple, programmed views can either be accessed on a regular basis, or at random intervals, thus serving as an unannounced audit. For example, ensuring that interior fire doors remain closed at all times, and that fire exits remained closed.
Used effectively and consistently, video can greatly advance a district’s efforts to streamline processes, improve security, reduce risk and achieve consistency across different campuses. For schools that already have network video solutions installed, taking the steps to use that video are well worth the investment of time and planning. For schools new to video or considering replacing legacy video equipment, considering all of the potential uses for video prior to selecting a solution could make for a smoother, more successful implementation.
Jeff Floreno serves as director of security operations and strategy for Wren, providers of physical security solutions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.