Video Surveillance: What Do You Need?

After a successful year-long pilot at Fenger High School, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) officials are implementing a $7-million electronic security system that is placing high-definition security cameras at 14 high schools during fiscal year 2012. Two other schools have already received the new digital cameras. Despite economic challenges — the district is facing a $612-million deficit, according to an article in the July 24, 2011, edition of the Chicago Tribune — the cameras will be paid through capital funds.

Administrators are counting on the investment enhancing the safety and security of students, as well as creating a safer climate for teaching and learning. “We’re taking additional steps to reduce crime and create school environments that are safe for students and staff, which is vital for teaching and learning,” says CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard. “Enhancing and maintaining a real sense of safety and creating a positive environment within our schools is a significant tool in driving student outcomes.”

Administrators hope to build upon the successes realized at Fenger, where misconduct cases declined by 59 percent from the 2010 to 2011 school year, arrests dropped by 69 percent and index crimes declined by 67 percent. False fire alarms dropped from eight in the 2008 school year to zero last year. This is the result of more than three dozen cameras being placed at entrances, in hallways and outside the building, which allow officials to zoom in and identify culprits. According to the Tribune article, they specifically helped police arrest a suspect in several break-ins.

What Is the Value?
Clearly, the Fenger numbers prove the value of the investment and support CPS administrators’ decision to push forward with the plan to implement cameras in additional schools. “Cameras have a tremendous value in that administrators can mitigate risk prior to an incident,” says Wade Norman, director of Sales for North America with San Juan Capistrano, Calif.-based IQinVision, which offers complete surveillance camera systems. “In an instance where they do experience an incident, they can use archived video to review what happened and analyze what to do different to preempt the risk in the future. Without video recording, you wouldn’t have either.”

Ron Pendley, sales representative with Evansville, Ind.-based Felts Lock and Alarm Co., which installs and services a complete line of security solutions, agrees: “Cameras allow administrators to see who is bullying, and that’s important because eyewitness accounts are not always accurate. With cameras, you can look at the evidence and know.” Even more, he stresses, “Having cameras in schools is like having more eyes on the students and watching them even better than a human can.”

Your Money’s Worth
CPS administrators, in charge of the nation’s third-largest school district, are already aware of the value of a security camera system, having introduced one in 1999. The present system is composed of a video recording system with 7,000-plus analog cameras across 268 schools. Another 365 schools currently have no cameras.

The new initiative will place between 50 and 80 cameras at 14 high schools that were identified through the use of specific safety metrics and school incident data — such as number of cases of severe misconduct under the CPS Student Code of Conduct, arrests in or on school property and crimes in or on school property reported by law enforcement. Information drawn from these metrics formed the criteria for selection of the schools.

Installing the IP-based camera platform will improve on the current system. “All high schools have enhanced networks that will support the new camera system,” says Franklin Shuftan, staff writer with CPS’ Office of Communications. “No upgrades were needed at any school.” It also allows the district to leverage resources from the Chicago Police Department (CPD) and the Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC).

Through the system:
  • images will be sent to the nearest police station and mobile devices, and can be viewed at the CPS Safety and Security office, CPD and Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC);
the system will produce high-quality video images that will allow for future video analytics;
the system will operate on a user-friendly camera platform that uses standard technology and facilitates the training of security personnel; and
the federation server is located at CPS’ Central Office and managed by both the Safety and Security and IT departments.
Obtaining Sound Advice
Making a decision to upgrade, enhance or add more cameras to schools may not be a tough decision for administrators who already have systems implemented and have seen their value. Take CPS, for example: “CPS has an intergovernmental agreement that allows the Public Building Commission (PBC) of Chicago to undertake large camera projects for CPS,” says Shuftan. “The PBC selected the camera vendors through an RFP process.”

For administrators who are considering cameras for the first time, there’s a learning curve, which is best traversed with assistance from security consultants who understand what equipment is right for the issue you want to mitigate. “More and more school administrators are relying on the security consultant to bring equipment providers to the table to realize the security equipment and technology needed to meet a particular security risk,” says Norman.

“Start by contacting someone you have a security relationship with, such as with regard to fire alarms and other electronics,” Pendley suggests, “as they’re usually also in the video business.”

What You Need to Know
The bottom line for determining what you need is to do your homework, for three reasons.

In order to get the appropriate equipment, you must first understand what your security risks are. “Do you need video surveillance, access control, intrusion detection or a combination of all those things?” asks Norman. “Once you know that, you can determine which products can assist you.”

It is paramount to purchase products that are future proof. Ask the vendor if the analog system you’re considering will be capable of supporting IP-based technology in the future. Ask if you will be able to add firmware (embedded into the processors onboard the cameras) rather than purchase new cameras.

“One upgrade that will be coming is improvement in facial recognition,” says Pendley, “which will allow security personnel to watch for persons they know are not allowed in the school and compare it to a local database of questionable people.”

Similarly, be aware that cloud recording is coming, and that requires a separate network because cameras eat up your broadband, Pendley says. It will be secure, which is important because you don’t want just anybody to be able to access the system and watch the students. He notes another benefit: “Once a recording is stored on the cloud, you can go back to it any time you want.”

Be aware of what the system requires in terms of maintenance because, if you spend in maintenance what it cost to purchase and install, you’ve spent too much. CPS administrators knew what they were doing. Currently, there is three-year maintenance and support on the servers and storage through CPS. “The cameras have a one-year warranty. In addition, we have also trained our security technicians and IT staff on administering and troubleshooting the new system, therefore minimizing maintenance cost.”

Determining what you need in terms of a surveillance system doesn’t have to be difficult, especially if you work with professionals. And there’s no doubt that there is value to your investment: “Just having the cameras there physically, with the students being aware of them, reduces vandalism,” says Pendley. “It’s just better security overall. Period.”