Eyes Wide Open

New technology enables better school security

ADT’s National Back to School Security Survey, a sampling of nearly 2,000 parents, indicates nearly 50 percent of parents are concerned their child could be targeted by a sexual predator at school; close to 40 percent are concerned about potential abduction from school; and more than a third fear a violent episode at school. With those statistics, it is not surprising that many parents say they would support spending more money on security measures for their school.

Despite the limited budgets of state and local governments, communities are finding ways to upgrade their security systems and use the latest technology to support their security plans. Upgrading to security systems using megapixel IP cameras with ultra-wide angle lenses can be cost effective by reducing the number of cameras and eliminating cabling and DVRs without sacrificing video surveillance area.

Simple and Stable
One example is the Murrieta Valley, Calif., Unified School District. At one of the district’s high schools, a security system upgrade would remove all 170 existing analog cameras and replace them with 43 megapixel cameras with ultra-wide-angle lenses from Theia Technologies. One of the main concerns in ensuring the safety of students and staff is the system’s reliability.

“The analog system was always breaking down, and there were too many cameras to manage,” said Bill Olien, assistant superintendent of the Murrieta school district. “The new system will be much simpler and less costly to maintain and monitor.”

In the fall of 2007, the district hired Johnson Consulting Engineers, located in Poway, Calif., to survey and assess the district’s needs. The engineering firm specializes in the design of electrical and technology systems for schools and has designed systems for more than 1,000 schools in California and Arizona. After assessment of the installed system, the firm was retained to design a new video security system.

The school district funded a districtwide video security system upgrade through a local bond. Implementation of the project, worth more than $1 million, began in September and will be completed in March 2009.

Improved Coverage
The district’s first priority was safety. In terms of system goals, that meant designing a system that would provide greater coverage with improved image clarity over the current analog system. A typical analog camera and lens has a narrow coverage area, or if it does cover a wider area, the resolution is so poor that the image would not be able to provide a legally acceptable description of people should the need arise.

A major factor in the design was ensuring adequate camera coverage for all areas without inundating the system with too many cameras.

John Frisbie, JCE vice president, said they designed the system around IQinVision’s megapixel cameras and Theia Technologies’ ultra-wide-angle lens. Before specifying this combination, they tested the lens-camera combination and compared it directly against a typical analog pairing.

“What’s remarkable about the system we’ve designed is that with Theia’s wideangle high-resolution lens, we can cover the same area more cost effectively,” Frisbie said. The lens, which provides a 135-degree horizontal field of view, uses a patented linear optical technology to optically correct the barrel (fish eye) distortion found in other wide-angle lenses, without any software.

“Theia’s lens allows you to consistently cover a very large area and digitally zoom in 60 to 70 feet to get an image that allows a legal description,” Frisbie said. “No other lens can do this.”

The combination of high-megapixel resolution, up to 5 megapixels with the wide-angle lens, provides more pixels per degree of image, allowing an end user to zoom in without pixelation. PTZ cameras used in other systems allow the user to zoom but fail to capture a large area continuously. Post-event zooming is not possible. PTZ cameras miss areas of coverage while panning, while a wide-angle fixed view captures the entire area.

IP-based video systems are more effective than analog systems because of ease of use. With analog technology, systems have more pieces of equipment and are more complicated. Besides long lengths of cabling, low-resolution video monitors, and many cameras and lenses, they require DVRs to record images from each camera. School district staff would have to log onto each DVR locally, then access a specific camera to monitor activity. With digital IP video systems, separate DVRs are not required.

A Workable Solution
Authorized school staff can use any district computer that is programmed with system software to easily view and manage any camera on the system. This improves system uptime and access, enabling greater security for students and staff in both prevention and incident response situations. Datatel Wiring Products will provide equipment installation, training and ongoing technical support for three years. Datatel, of Riverside, Calif., is a certified installer that was awarded the contract following a competitive bid in July.

One thing to keep in mind is that “high megapixel resolution cameras used in IP systems require servers capable of handling multiple terabytes of data,” said E.B. DelaCobas of Datatel.

The system will use a total of 19 servers, with two having up to 6 TB of data storage capacity each, while the rest will have 2 TB each with additional backup storage of up to 10 TB.

In the long run, the robust and capable system specified will allow the Murrieta district to achieve their system performance goals, ensuring greater security and cost effectiveness.

This article originally appeared in the November 2008 issue of Security Today.

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