Staying Ahead of the Curve

A Florida school district looks to the future with IP video surveillance

This fall, students across the country returned to schools that look nothing like those of the past. Today, metal detectors, security cameras and access control readers are all part of the education landscape, especially in larger districts. However, as the rash of school shootings in recent years has shown, violence and crime can happen anywhere.

In the simpler days of school security, some school districts employed security guards at most. However, today's school district environment requires more than just a couple of security guards. One forward-thinking Florida school district recently decided to adopt a preventative approach to security.

Wide Open Spaces
With approximately 83,000 residents, Flagler County, Fla., is a rural community tucked between Daytona Beach and St. Augustine. School district officials there believe the county's schools are less likely to encounter serious crime or violence than many of the state's larger districts. But Walt Fischer, director of plant services for the district, said officials have been working toward a video surveillance system for several years despite the little difficulty they encounter each year with school crime and vandalism.

"We're in a very small county and still very rural," he said. "But by planning for this, we were trying to stay ahead of the curve."

The district comprised about 12,000 students last year. Fischer said vandalism-mainly break-ins and graffiti-most often comes from outside people who are not involved with the schools. Those are the people the district wants to keep out, while also preparing itself for the remote possibility of a more severe event.

New Sight
School district officials teamed up with IC Realtime, a provider of digital video solutions headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to establish surveillance systems in one of the county's middle schools and three of its elementary schools. Matt Sailor, president of IC Realtime, said the importance of school security and the value of planning ahead cannot be overemphasized.

"I feel that surveillance is possibly the most important addition that a campus can add in today's world. With all that is going on<\m>from the shootings that seem to appear daily now, to the vandalism, as well sexual crimes<\m>CCTV is no longer an option but rather a necessity," he said.

Florida-based Spook Tech installed 32 IC Realtime cameras at each school, giving administration unprecedented awareness of student activities in all parts of the campus, and allowing them to monitor the district's bus yards, maintenance facilities and even employees, Fischer said. Night-vision cameras help provide 24-hour surveillance in areas that had been left unmonitored. Security officials also can view any of the cameras or corresponding DVRs from anywhere on the network, as the DVRs are fully accessible via the LAN, WAN or Internet.

"This gives all of the management, as well as security personnel, the ability to tap any one of the dozens of PCs in the school to bring up live video or playback in seconds," Sailor said. "The school put cameras in almost every area of the campus. They have anywhere from two to five DVRs in each of the schools that are covering everything from the parking lot all the way to the cafeterias."

The schools installed a variety of cameras<\m>from IR bullets to high-resolution CCDs<\m>to suit each area of the school campuses. The video is recorded in real time at 30 fps, giving officials high-quality images to hand over to police for evidence of a crime.

But security officials at the Flagler schools wanted more than just high-quality evidence of each crime. Sailor said the officials wanted to be able to quickly and easily share information with authorities should an incident occur, which presented a challenge. Most DVRs require special software for viewing a burned CD or DVD. How could police quickly view evidence of a crime if they had to worry about having the correct software each time? IC Realtime came up with an innovative solution<\m>the video player software is burnt on the CD or DVD at the same time as the video evidence. That way, when security officials give the disk to police, the player is already there, and the evidence is ready to be reviewed.

Before the installation, the district also had a virtual private network between the schools to transmit data and communicate between one another. This posed another problem for the new cameras and DVRs.

"The challenge presents itself when you stream dozens of cameras all in real time at a very high image quality; the networks suffers and gets bogged down," Sailor said. "With our DVR line, we have the ability to record at a very high frame rate, as well as a high image quality while streaming at another rate."

This allows the network to be almost unaffected by the video while still allowing the data to be stored at the highest quality possible. Also, multiple users can be on the system simultaneously without affecting the internal network in the school, a feature that would be invaluable during a crisis situation.

Noticeable Results
The presence of the surveillance system has had a noticeable effect on Flagler County schools. Since installation, the district has caught several acts of vandalism on video and was able to prosecute the vandals. As hoped, Fischer said the cameras have helped to cut down on the number of incidents.

"A difference also has been simply the psychology a surveillance system brings<\m>a more secure feeling and a more calming effect," he said.

After such a positive experience working with IC Realtime<\m>which provides continual training and service after an installation<\m>the school district decided to work with the company again on its two newly built elementary schools. Now, Fischer said, all the district's schools feature IC Realtime surveillance systems, and the school board plans to use them again as several schools undergo expansion. That way, as the district continues to develop, it will be prepared for the types of security growing pains larger districts are still scrambling to deal with.

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