A Whole New Approach

Taos schools enhance security by adding surveillance system to IT network

To diminish high school mischief, the Taos Municipal School District’s technology coordinator and network administrator began lobbying for surveillance cameras in Taos High School in New Mexico. The building also is used by the University of New Mexico for evening classes, which added afterhours security as another area of concern. Coupled with the fact that the high school housed an enormous inventory of technology components, it was clear that Taos needed a surveillance system that could ensure the safety of its students and technology assets.

Over the next several years, Taos schools will be working with CDW Government Inc. to deploy 100 network video cameras from Axis Communications. The first 25 cameras will be installed at the high school, another 25 will be deployed at the middle school and the remaining 50 will be divided among the district’s three elementary schools.

Phase One
In the initial phase, the district deployed AXIS 221 day and night network cameras at 21 points of entry into the high school. Since the installation, the cameras have already caught a student in the act of pulling a fire alarm. Robert Spitz, technology coordinator and network administrator for Taos Municipal Schools, expects to expand coverage as school administration and security personnel single out other areas that require monitoring.

“Given the reports I’ve seen from other cities about how much damage two or three vandals can cause in a couple of hours, I think the school board and the citizens of Taos agree that the protection of our students and property is well worth the investment in our multi-campus surveillance system,” Spitz said.

Choosing and IP Solution
The district chose network cameras rather than older analog technology because of the lower cost of installation and ease of deployment.

“Network cameras don’t need special cables and separate power supplies for each unit,” Spitz said. “Since the network cameras support PoE, it’s easy to put them wherever we need them.”

Spitz and his technology team ran a single Cat-5 Ethernet cable from the camera to the network switch to power up and transmit data directly to the network. This eliminated the time and expense of installing a separate power outlet for each camera.

IP-based technology also gives the school district enormous configuration flexibility.

“It’s about as simple to add a camera to the network as it is to add any other peripheral device,” Spitz said. “And you can add cameras in any increment you choose.”

Given Spitz’s hectic schedule—he and his staff maintain more than 2,000 computers on six campuses throughout the district—he appreciates being able to add cameras at his own pace and as funding becomes available.

Fitting the Environment
Because the day/night cameras operate under infrared lighting conditions, they give security staff added visibility at night, when vandals think they can operate undetected. The added benefit of a motion-sensing feature means the network cameras only begin recording when they detect motion.

“This saves us from recording countless hours of video when nothing significant is happening,” Spitz said.

Though the Axis network cameras also support a vandal- alert feature—sounding the alarm if they are tampered with—Taos schools will not be using this feature in the initial rollout. But if the school district decides to upgrade its campus alarm systems, Spitz assures that the district will be able to tie the cameras into that upgrade to take full advantage of the enhanced security.

Balancing the Load
About 400 computers at Taos High School actively access the network on a daily basis. By design, the district connects all its network devices to the gigabit backbone by fast Ethernet switches.

“Since the Axis network cameras give us the flexibility to choose a reasonable frame rate for our environment, surveillance activity won’t place any undue burden on our network bandwidth or degrade the performance of any other IT activity we currently run,” Spitz said.

As Spitz rolls out the surveillance system to all the schools in the district, he will provide each school’s administrative staff with a list of IP addresses for the cameras at their respective campuses. The video management software will give the principal, vice principal, security guard and onsite police officer the ability to access views from any particular camera they want and at any time to monitor multiple camera feeds simultaneously.

This article originally appeared in the March 2009 issue of Security Today.

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