Safety First

A look at how two districts use security tech to protect their schools.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 85 percent of public schools recorded at least one incident of crime during the 2007–2008 school year that had taken place at school, amounting to an estimated two million crimes., We don’t like to think or talk about it, but school security has become a top priority for school leaders.

The good news is that installing a video surveillance system has gotten easier in the last few years. Today, most security camera systems use IP cameras, which can be either wired or wireless over a computer network. Unlike older analog closed-circuit television systems, IP cameras can be installed by the user and reconfigured as needed. They also let users broadcast footage over the Internet, making it easy to monitor.

But cameras are just a start. To help create a safe, secure environment and protect against everything from fights and bullying to trespassing and theft, schools are installing video surveillance cameras, physical access controls, and paging and radio systems.

All Systems Go

When IT director Matt Frederickson left the private sector to work at Council Rock (PA) School District in 2003, the IT infrastructure was so poor that, he says, “If the network was up for three days a week, the teachers were thrilled.” So Frederickson called Cisco and installed a state-of-the-art network, knowing that a solid backbone was the first step to bringing the district up to date.

At the time, the high schools had limited video surveillance and dooraccess control deployments, but every camera and door controller required their own power lines, which cost $250 to $300 to install. Additionally, each system had to be managed locally, and video was stored on VCRs at each school.

The IT department, key administrators, and safety officers developed a master security plan. Their goals were for the control systems to be cost effective and easy to use and manage. “We had already invested in a solid IP network, so that became the platform for video surveillance and physical access controls,” Frederickson says.

Today, the district has deployed 42 cameras in its two high schools, including wireless Cisco Video Surveillance 2500 series IP Cameras and wired cameras from Sony. The central IT office monitors all of the cameras through Cisco’s video surveillance manager software; school resource officers, principals, and the dean can look at any camera’s video using a Web browser.

Campus resource officers can move the cameras to any location without advance planning.

Because the video surveillance solution operates over the IP network, Council Rock can grant access to the system to people in any location. The district and the local police department established a memorandum of understanding, giving police permission to view video from cameras outside one of the high school buildings. Council Rock plans to continue adding video surveillance cameras and door access controllers, and to further increase the return on investment from its IP network by using it to reduce energy costs.

A Solid Security Plan

Five years ago, around the time John Hunkiar became chief of safety, security, and emergency management for Leon County (FL) Schools, there was an attempted abduction at one of the district’s elementary schools. Needless to say, that event led to a full-scale evaluation of security procedures. The district, which is one of the state’s largest, had dozens of campuses and virtually no comprehensive video surveillance system.

“We wanted to prevent stuff from happening and have the ability to follow up on anything that may have occurred,” says Hunkiar. His plan was to install an easy-to-maintain video surveillance solution on all 48 campus perimeters and administration buildings. Hunkiar looked for a company that focused on software without forcing him to purchase a lot of expensive hardware. He also wanted to incorporate access control to some of the administrative facilities. Video Insight was the right fit.

Today, there are more than 1,500 cameras on campus. Leon County selected an analog system consisting of rack mount 2950 Dell servers and 32 cameras per school. The cameras monitor and record building exteriors and parking lots to deter unauthorized access and visitors, vandalism, and other illegal activities. “We focused on user-friendly, low-maintenance products rather than high-end cameras, then mapped out each campus with administrators and law enforcement,” says Hunkiar.

The district also uses Video Insight’s card access control system to secure confidential information in a few administrative areas.

Hunkiar says that one of the best features is that authorized personnel can watch the cameras from the stateof- the-art district monitoring/emergency operations center or remotely, whichever is most convenient. “We monitor our own alarms and cameras and can pull up cameras and look at what’s happening,” he says. The center monitors real-time weather alerts and contacts schools about possible holds and emergencies, monitors school buses and maintenance vehicles via GPS, and is responsible for emergency messaging. The center also serves as Leon County’s backup emergency operations center, further legitimizing the technology and planning that went into building it. “It’s a round-the-clock, single point of access,” says Hunkiar.

Over the years, Hunkiar has dealt with missing children during the school day, shootings in the area, bomb threats, weather-related emergencies, and natural disasters. “Pre- Columbine and pre-9/11, school safety was a different animal. In the last 15 years, everything’s changed. You can’t just walk into a teacher’s classroom and drop off lunch.”