Second Time Around

Missouri school district moves on after initial faulty video surveillance system

School security directors often keep a keen eye on the latest security technologies that come to market, and then deploy these solutions to ensure their schools have the best technology to protect students and employees, deter and catch vandals and keep the bad guys out.

The same can be said for early technology adopter Hickman Mills C-1 school district in Kansas City, Mo., a large consolidated district with 7,047 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. It deployed its network video surveillance system five years ago.

A Costly Mistake
Wanting to increase school safety and deter vandalism, Hickman Mills began a large-scale surveillance project with a small, local integrator. The district spent $400,000 to install 195 IP cameras in its hallways, cafeterias, gymnasiums and outside buildings, implementing a digital video network that connects its 16 facilities, with school officials centrally monitoring the network video system.

Each year, vandalism was costing Hickman Mills $80,000. When the stage curtains were set on fire by an arsonist in 2000, an additional $1 million in damages was added to that total.

“We were experiencing a high incident rate of intrusions and break-ins in our buildings, especially during extended absences, such as holidays and summer break,” said John McEntee, director of safety and security for Hickman Mills.

The number of facilities monitored—eight elementary schools, two middle schools, two senior high schools, two special education schools, an early childhood development center and central administrative offices—turned the network video surveillance system into a large project. Despite the district’s investment in a security systems integrator and their internal expertise, the network security system didn’t work.

Instead of full motion video, the school had a system that delivered still images, like photographs. And the system proved difficult when it came to retrieving video—it was a challenge to locate the actual video of an incident, such as video showing a fight between students in a hallway or surveillance of a person vandalizing the outside of a building.

“The biggest problem was that it didn’t work for months at a time,” said Tracy Dale, IT supervisor for Hickman Mills. “It was billed as a network-based video surveillance system and an intrusion detection system.”

In addition to network problems, the school district found the integrator they had initially selected was unresponsive and, despite several attempts to solve the problem, the integrator was not able to come up with a solution. It didn’t help that its office was located on the other side of the state.

“The expectations were not met. There were all types of delays and problems dealing with them one-on-one,” McEntee said. “It’s the service, after all, that’s so important.”

Reassessing Things
After struggling with the system for several years, Hickman Mills called in Securitas Systems for a full assessment of its network video surveillance system. The goal was to identify problems with the system and then hire an integrator to fix it.

Securitas Systems evaluated all the cameras on the system to identify any that were not working. Next it tested the network connection and the processor on the back end, and looked at the location of each camera.

“They made significant investments with no tangible results and no way out,” said Ed Meltzer, branch manager for Securitas Systems in Kansas City, Mo. “How do you explain to the public that your investment is not working?”

Securitas Systems learned the network video processing system installed for Hickman Mills had been manufactured by a company no longer in business. There was nothing wrong with the 195 IP cameras installed, but the power supplies for the cameras were under-powered, causing frequent down time. And, the systems video management software needed to be replaced. A few cameras in hallways also needed to be adjusted, because they were positioned too low, and taller students could touch and move them.

“It was marketed as a network video system, but it never delivered video,” Meltzer said. “It delivered multiple still frames. It was proprietary, and there were numerous problems with the system itself.”

Up and Running
The fix for the system was simple to accomplish, according to Meltzer and Securitas Systems account executive Jon Gann, who compiled the assessment on the school’s network system. It involved upgrading the cameras power supplies and implementing a new network video recording solution, along with adjusting a few camera locations.

“We presented a report to the board of education and proposed budget on the project, and they voted to have us implement the solution, too,” Meltzer said. “The task originally was to make recommendations and identify what it would cost to solve the problems, and we wound up winning the job.”

Over a period of just a few short months, the camera power supplies were upgraded throughout the school district. McEntee collaborated with the school district’s IT department to implement the network video recording solution. The project initiated collaboration between the schools’ security director and IT departments.

“John was the one who recommended having IT involved,” Dale said. “We talked about bandwidth and how it would affect the schools operations. We needed to understand the impact this would have.”

Now, school administrators and principals at each school can access either real-time video or archived surveillance footage of an incident. Instead of having to view 600 JPEG images taken during a 10-minute time span, administrators can easily pinpoint the video to view and call it up.

“With the new software, everything works 10 times better,” Dale said.

Despite needing to make a few additional improvements, such as upgrading the school district’s 20 PTZ cameras, Hickman Mills has had numerous positive results. McEntee said the number of assaults and break-ins are down.

“The network video system also is helpful to administrators when there’s an incident, such as who provoked the incident and who threw the first punch,” McEntee said.

In one recent incident, school officials, in their own accord, used the system to view surveillance footage captured during a break-in.

“The administrators took it upon themselves to see what they could learn,” McEntee said. “They pinpointed the video and identified the kids because one them had his face uncovered. He didn’t think the cameras worked.”

Luckily for the school district, the cameras were up and running, and Hickman Mills has been happy with its new investment ever since.

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