Watch it

For the school CIO, safeguarding students and facilities is as much a part of the job description as keeping the data networks running and the servers protected from hackers. Here's how two districts of different sizes secured their surveillance systems.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools

The fourth-largest school district in the country looked to security measures used in Israel and the Big Apple before selecting an intelligent video surveillance system developed by Phoenix IVS that has shown impressive results so far.

Luis Garcia, project manager for the system's capital task force, says the 400-site, 385,000-student system piloted a number of similar products before trying Phoenix IVS at Miami Northwestern Senior High School. The school already had 120 cameras placed around the building, but watching all of those images can become hypnotic for safety personnel, causing them to miss incidents.

By employing an intelligent video solution, parameters can be set up that sound alerts when certain situations occur, resulting in 24/7 surveillance for the facility.

A pilot project during the 2007-1008 school year showed a 34 percent drop in the 19 serious incident types categorized by the system's police force. Selected results include a 62 percent drop in aggravated assault; a 72 percent decrease in aggravated battery; a 44 percent decline in simple battery; a reduction by half in robbery; and a 72 percent drop in weapon-related incidents.

Garcia, who's been with the district for 14 years, says the system cost about $30,000 and worked exactly as advertised. Like many school districts, the Miami-Dade County system is facing monetary constraints but plans to roll the system out to every high school in the next year or two, followed by middle schools and select elementary schools, based on the number of incident reports at each facility. Every high school and middle school already employs surveillance cameras, as do 40 of the systems 200 elementary schools, making installation of the Phoenix IVS system more cost-effective. "I had thought about pulling the system out after the pilot, but the principal, faculty members, and police begged me to keep it," Garcia says. "We've been very happy with the product."

Taos Municipal Schools

Even after Robert Spitz caught a student on camera stealing a master key from his office, the then-superintendent and board of Taos Municipal Schools (NM) declined to approve the purchase of IP cameras for district schools.

Fast forward a few months to a new superintendent and a 60 percent turnover on the board following an election, and the district's tech coordinator and network administrator got the OK to purchase 100 cameras from Axis Communications through CDW-G.

The cost of the purchase was $130,000, and Spitz says it cost $10,000 to install them at the district's high school, Taos High. He estimates it will take no more than $50,000 to install cameras at the middle school and three elementary schools that comprise the 2,900-student district.

Twenty-five cameras were installed in the high school, and plans call for 25 cameras each in the middle school and largest elementary school, 15 in the second elementary, and 10 in the third. One computer can monitor and record images from 16 cameras, and administrators can pull up camera images from any computer by inputting its IP address. For the high school, the computer monitors are in the security office.

"There's not enough money for a security guard in each school, so this gives faculty and staff a little piece of mind to be able to monitor corridors and corners of buildings," says Spitz, who's been with the district since 1997, first as a teacher before moving into IT in 2000. Prior to joining the district, he was a classroom teacher for six additional years. "If they know cameras are watching, I hope students think twice before doing anything they shouldn't," Spitz says. "Two or three kids going berserk in a school can do as much damage as it cost to implement the system."