Video Surveillance Keeps School Users Safe

More and more, school districts are using network cameras for video surveillance. “The primary driver is the safety and security of the three types of constituents who use their facilities,” says Steve Surfaro, industry liaison for Axis Communications, a Swedish-based IT company with an office in Chelmsford, Mass. “They include students, faculty and visitors. It allows districts to stay ahead of the threat.”

Don Flynn, owner of Covert Investigations & Security, Suffolk County, Long Island, N.Y., is familiar with this trend of maintaining the safety and security of everyone on campus, having worked with a number of Long Island school districts in the last several years. Most recently, he has worked with two school districts using video surveillance to help each to solve a different need.

An Upgrade for Connetquot
This past spring, Connetquot Central School District of Islip, in Bohemia, N.Y., experienced a threat when two teens planned to kill teachers and students at Connetquot High School with guns and bombs, according to Fortunately, both teens were apprehended before they could carry out their plan. Ironically, one of the teens had made a similar threat in 2007, which was handled in family court.

As a result, administrators determined to implement a district-wide surveillance system that would enable them to respond quickly to future emergencies at any of their 11 schools. They called in Flynn.

“Our recommendation to the district,” says Flynn, “was to look at its access control system. And the number-one priority was to secure the perimeter and help security staff and administrators monitor who was on the grounds and who was in their schools. Cameras have enabled 24/7 monitoring of both.”

The district already had a robust Wide Area Network with analog cameras, so it was a simple process of migration to install additional cameras. “We were able to bring all the recording back to one central location,” says Flynn. “This was ideal. Right now, there are about 160 cameras in use in the district.”

Some of the new cameras are fixed and some are PTZ (Pan/Tilt/Zoom). “The beauty of the PTZs,” Flynn points out, “is we were able to use them wirelessly. This has allowed the district to monitor their athletic fields that, unfortunately, have experienced vandalism. They couldn’t have afforded to trench that distance to install wired cameras.

“It was also nice that the cameras worked seamlessly with the DVR (Digital Voice Recording) and NBR (Network-Based Recording) systems that were already installed,” Flynn continues. “It was a real bonus to not have to scrap everything that was already in place and to not have any waste.”

The Connetquot security upgrade was designed as a three-year plan. This enables the district to upgrade — the analog cameras will eventually be replaced — as funds are available, as areas of concern are identified and as needs change. “The system is always growing,” Flynn says, “and that is the beauty of IT cameras. We’re constantly reassessing and making recommendations.”

In the initial planning stages, there was a concern in choosing an IT camera, as dependability, quality and accountability were top priorities. “We aren’t going to recommend a camera that might not be around in the next year or two,” says Flynn. “We are receiving good results in other installations with the cameras we chose, and we are receiving good feedback from IT, security and administrative staff in those installations, so Axis products were an obvious choice.”

From the Ground Up for Islip
The second district for which Flynn has offered consulting assistance is Islip School District in New York, which has five schools. “Islip is a quiet community with not a lot of problems,” Flynn observes. “The district is experiencing quality of life issues more than anything, such as graffiti and trespassing. But the district made the choice that it was time to look at how access control is addressed.”

In contrast to Connetquot, Islip had no existing video surveillance, so the project was designed from the ground up. The initial roll out included 80 cameras, which came with a pleasant surprise. “When I specify cameras,” Flynn explains, “I say that the absolute minimum storage capacity is two weeks and, for this district, we wanted 30 days. However, the camera we chose has helped with storage — we’re conservatively seeing upward of two months of storage in the same amount of bytes that used to provide two to three weeks of storage.

“Also,” Flynn continues, “we recently did a demonstration for the Islip board of education and community, and received a good response in terms of image clarity and storage capacity.”

Islip administrators and community members were also pleased with the compact size of the cameras. “Islip is a small community,” explains Flynn, “and members were concerned about camera aesthetics. They didn’t want large pendants hanging from the sides of their beautiful, older school buildings. The cameras we chose are so unobtrusive that you hardly notice they’re there. So we were able to accomplish our goals and still maintain a small community feel, which was a large portion of the project.”

And the surveillance system is working just as it is designed. “I will tell you that, in the several weeks the cameras have been up,” Flynn says, “there have been four incidents, and all have been captured on camera. One was petty theft, two were graffiti and one incident included three adults trespassing at night and giving a custodian a difficult time. In the third case, the clarity of the individuals was good. All were identified within 24 hours and arrests made. Without video surveillance, it wouldn’t have been possible.”

The Islip security plan is designed and specified for a three-year roll out. “We’re very pleased with the positioning of the initial 80 cameras,” Flynn notes, “and the scalability and storage ability enable the district to continue to assess their needs and add cameras to the system in the coming school year.”

Both school districts paid for part of their video surveillance with New York State’s EXCEL (Expanding our Children’s Education and Learning) Fund, which addresses school facility needs and provides funding in the form of grants. “Using these funds was extremely cost effective for the tax payers,” says Flynn. “It worked out very well for the districts in that they were able to prioritize their facility projects and accomplish what needed to be done. In both cases, security was top over other projects.”

Similarly, when it comes to installing or upgrading video surveillance systems, Flynn advises school administrators to set priorities and do their homework. “Look at and ask questions of school districts that have been successful with their systems because there are a lot of nightmares out there,” he cautions. “Of course the price point is important but, still, reach out to other administrators and suppliers who can show you their systems and answer your questions.”

Surfaro agrees, adding that cameras provide two levels of safety and security for school building users. The first, is the benefit of video analytics in crisis situations that, fortunately, are few and far between for school districts. The second, is the benefit of discouraging inappropriate and illegal behavior, such as bullying or trespassing. “Cameras are a tool,” he sums, a tool from which more and more districts are benefiting.