Lessons Learned

School district uses networked cameras to promote security, academic excellence

When Hurricane Katrina nearly obliterated the city of Pass Christian, Miss., in 2005, the Mississippi gulf school district faced a rebuilding project of enormous proportion.

Two of its four schools had been reduced to rubble, one required extensive restoration, and a fourth was significantly damaged and is being subsequently demolished and rebuilt. With new construction underway, school district administrators decided to take a proactive stance on school security by incorporating state-of-art surveillance in all buildings.

Axis Communications' partner CameraWATCH Technologies, a Jackson, Miss.-based system integrator with extensive experience in network-based surveillance systems for schools, helped Pass Christian School District deploy an array of network cameras at its new elementary and middle schools, administrative building and daycare center. CameraWATCH also is working with the district to implement Genetec's Omnicast network video surveillance security solution as well as its Synergis IP access control solution as part of its comprehensive protective strategy.

School officials can now track visitors entering and exiting any campus building, as well as identify the license plates of vehicles in the vicinity of its schools and district office. Administrators say the network cameras are serving as effective deterrents to disruptive behavior on school grounds. The district also is planning to use the network cameras to help outstanding teachers mentor their peers through live recordings of actual classroom activities that have led to high academic achievement.

"Though we've never experienced a serious incident in our schools, we feel our Axis network cameras will help us be proactive in maintaining a safe and secure learning environment for our students and teachers," said Teresa Burton, technology director at Pass Christian School District.

Devastation Leads to Innovation

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, with only one elementary school left partially standing and a high school with the entire first level in ruins, classrooms were relegated to temporary trailers until new schools could be erected. Despite the less-than-ideal learning environment, standardized test scores show Pass Christian leading Mississippi in academic achievement, ranking in the top 1 percent of 152 school districts in the Magnolia State.

"One of the reasons we feel our student achievement is so high is because we've been very proactive with our curriculum," Burton said. "Since we had to rebuild our schools anyway, we wanted to be equally proactive with security."

With no history of violence in the school district, administrators felt that the presence of state-of-theart video cameras on campus would serve to remind students to continue conducting themselves appropriately. The cameras also would provide officials with a more efficient way to identify visitors.

"After the hurricane, we had volunteers coming from all over the country to help us," Burton said. "We used a lot of staff to keep an eye on visitors to make sure these people were authorized to be here. Now we can use the security cameras to see who's coming and going, and whether vehicles parked in the area are authorized to be there."

Covering the Hot Spots

According to Burton, network cameras give the district more control over surveillance because the IPbased technology can be easily managed and maintained by the technology staff already responsible for the school system's network infrastructure. It also allows administrators to access cameras from their PCs and retrieve footage of an incident to see how it started and who was involved.

About 150 network cameras will be deployed inside and outside of the four schools, the central administrative office and a daycare center. These include fixed dome and fixed outside VGA cameras, megapixel-resolution and the new HDTV cameras, as well as outdoor PTZ cameras to monitor the temporary classroom trailers. Almost 100 network cameras are being installed in the middle school and one of the elementary schools that shares the campus to cover every classroom and hallway, the cafeterias, gymnasia, parking lots, athletic fields and the common courtyard.

Burton said the cameras have shown administrators which students were carelessly leaving their lunch trays on the benches outside the high school and identified the likely culprits who scribbled messages on a bathroom mirror.

"The Axis network cameras have led our students to think they can't do anything without us seeing them," she said. "So, the surveillance system is keeping them on their best behavior."

Daycare Center Security

Grants have helped the district build a separate daycare center on its Center for Excellence campus, which also houses its middle school and one of its elementary schools. Run by educators, the competitive, self-supporting operation is open to the community. To provide extra security in the facility, which accepts babies as young as six weeks old, CameraWATCH installed the Synergis IP access control solution from Genetec. This system complements the Axis cameras deployed throughout the building that are managed by Omnicast.

People using a card to access the daycare center are captured on video and matched with their photo in the database. If a cancelled card is used or the face doesn't match the valid card, an alert with a video image of the individual is sent to the administrative offi ce for immediate attention.

Because the network cameras are deployed at the entrances and throughout the building, administrators can monitor activity inside the daycare center.

"Should the wrong person pick up a child, we're going to know who it was and what they look like," Burton said.

Best Practices in the Classroom

Pass Christian administrators see the cameras in the classroom as a "best practice" for its instructors to help other teachers.

"We have teachers at our high school whose students consistently score at the top of standardized testing in mandated subject area testing," Burton said. "So we would like to share their lectures and classroom activities with other teachers as best practices in the classroom."

Burton believes the cameras will support the curriculum development and boost achievement across the district and, perhaps, even the state.

About the Author

Fredrik Nilsson is the VP, Americas, for Axis Communications, Inc. He has more than 15 years of experience with IP video systems and is the author of “Intelligent Network Video: Understanding Modern Video Surveillance Systems” published by CRC Press and now available in its second edition.

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