How to Raise Your System's Grade
- By Fredrik Nilsson
- Nov 01, 2010
In rural communities, a newly renovated high
school often serves double duty: educational
facility by day and public host to community
events by night. This kind of multi-usage often
stretches conventional security resources
beyond their intended design. Such was the
case in Cody, Wyo.
The block-long Cody High School, with its state-of-the-art auditorium
and computer labs, not only serves as an education center but
also as a busy after-hours hub for neighborhood programs, including
concerts, lectures and collegiate classes taught via the Internet.
“Being a smaller community, our high school plays center stage
to a lot of different community events,” said Brandon Jensen, the
Administrators limit access to the school by locking all but two
main entrances during daytime hours -- and those doors are under
observation by school staff. At night, with townspeople coming and
going for various activities, it’s more problematic to keep the building
In 2000, the school experienced a serious case of vandalism,
which provided the catalyst to install a number of analog cameras
around the premises.
“We experienced a substantial amount of damage,” said Jim
Heath, technology director for Cody Public Schools. “All the administrative
offices were turned upside down, the computer lab was
trashed. Vandals sprayed fire extinguishers all over the classrooms.
It was a big disaster.”
After a decade, administrators have yet to apprehend the culprits.
Once the high school installed the analog cameras, the community
believed them to be magic bullets that would stop incidents like
that from happening again. And if not, at least the video would
enable them to catch the guilty party.
“Any time we had a situation, people’s first response was ‘What do
the cameras say?’ And frankly, those cameras weren’t saying a whole
lot,” Heath said.
In fact, the video captured by those video cameras invariably
yielded too few details to be useful -- especially at night when most
incidents seemed to occur. After a decade of disappointment, the
district decided a high-resolution IP-based surveillance system
would be a better deterrent for vandalism and other inappropriate
activity on school property.
To help them devise an appropriate replacement for their legacy
analog technology, school officials turned to ISC Corporation, a
Wyoming-based network integrator that the district had previously
used to install its fiber network and IP telephony system. ISC recommended an array of 80 indoor and outdoor network cameras
from Axis Communications to monitor the school building and its
42-acre campus. The Axis cameras use PoE and plug directly into
the school’s robust network infrastructure through Ethernet cables,
making it easy to move them to different trouble spots as needed.
The exterior cameras came equipped with automatic day/night
functionality to provide a clear picture of people and objects even
in low-light conditions. ISC also advocated an intuitive NetDVMS
from OnSSI that would allow administrative staff to monitor, manage
and investigate the video as well as control the Axis cameras
over the school’s fiber network.
Taking Proactive Measures
Rather than react to problematic events that inevitably occur at the
high school level -- such as student getting into shoving matches or
smoking on school grounds -- Jensen and Heath decided to take a
proactive approach to ensuring the safety of the school population
and the community at large. In addition to contracting with ISC to
replace its inadequate analog cameras with more effective network
surveillance technology, the school actively participates in crisis
drills with local police, first responders and the Department of
Since the new surveillance system is network-based, it has
become an integral part of the security measures implemented by
the town to avoid the kind of high-profile problems experienced by
other schools across the nation. For exterior coverage of the premises,
the video surveillance system integrates PTZ and fixed-dome
network cameras to monitor entry doors, the senior parking lot,
the bus loading zone, and abutting parks and recreation areas.
“We get a lot of traffic in and around the school, depending on
the time of day and events scheduled,” Heath said. “We focus the
cameras on areas where the students like to congregate and get into
mischief, like the tennis courts across the street and the city park
north of campus.”
Heath notes the dramatic difference between the network cameras
and the old analog cameras.
“With the old system, there were times when the perpetrator
was looking directly at the camera and, because the lighting was
less than optimal, we still couldn’t see who it was. The Axis network
cameras automatically adjust to the lighting conditions so we
can zoom in and clearly see the details we need.”
“The video from our old analog camera system was so pixilated
we only identified culprits about 15 percent of the time,” Jensen said.
“Our new cameras have such amazing image clarity that so far we’ve
been able to identify who was doing what 100 percent of the time.”
Holding Students Accountable
ISC also deployed Axis fixed-dome network cameras inside the
high school to cover hallways, stairwells, the gymnasium and common
areas, as well as outside bathrooms and classrooms.
“While we don’t have a lot of vandalism problems here, the cameras
help us hold students responsible for their actions, whether
they are malicious or accidental,” Jensen said.
Jensen recalls an incident where a student tripped and spilled
milk on the floor and walls of the cafeteria. Instead of reporting the
mess, he just walked away. In the past, administrators would have
simply sent the janitorial staff to mop it up before anyone slipped
and hurt themselves. With the new video cameras, administrators
were able to pinpoint the time of the incident, identify the young
man and assign him to help with the clean up.
Analytics for Recording, Archive Searching
To avoid unnecessary archiving, ISC leveraged motion detection
embedded in the Axis cameras to trigger the VMS to begin recording
“We custom-programmed the video motion detection sensitivity
threshold for the field of view,” said Jeff Ehrenhart of ISC Corp.
“For instance, in covering the park across the street, we blocked
out areas of the frame where cars are constantly driving by.”
This deployment enables the school to use one camera to cover
both the park across the street and the faculty and senior parking
areas close to the school. By setting the motion sensors to ignore cars
traveling the road, the school eliminates the archiving -- and storage
drain -- of countless hours of video containing no events of interest.
“We have 24 terabytes of disk space and archive our video for 45
days,” Heath said. “Using the selective motion detection feature
within the video frame saves us storage.”
ISC also deployed an intelligent search feature to help school
administrators quickly scan video for missing objects. The
Smart Search allows school staff to select an object within the
field of view -- such as a laptop on a table -- and instruct the
VMS to fast-forward to the next frame where that object moved
“Smart Search greatly speeds up an investigation,” Ehrenhart
said. “Instead of reviewing several hours of video, the system automatically
jumps to the exact moment of the event so you can see
who was in the area when the object went missing.”
Maintaining Wireless Access in an Emergency
Cody High School employs a school resource officer -- a paid member
of the Cody Police Department -- to work onsite at the school.
In addition to having full access to the high school’s cameras, she
serves as the liaison officer to both the chief of police and Park
County Sheriff ’s Department.
“We have a really nice partnership with law enforcement,”
In a crisis, the SRO can share password access to the cameras
with other police officers and the Park County Search and Rescue,
depending on the needs of the situation. Search and Rescue operates
a mobile command unit equipped with wireless Internet connectivity,
which enables responders to access the live video remotely
in an emergency.
“We keep access to the cameras as limited as possible,” Heath said.
He said he feels it’s important that the community understands the
reasons for the surveillance system. “We’re not Big Brother,” he said.
“We installed them solely for the protection and safety of our children,
our staff and the community attending events on our premises.”
Putting a Positive Sp in on Surveillance
Jensen said having network cameras in and around the property
has a positive effect on the behavior of students, faculty and visitors
to the campus. With the clarity of the images provided by the
network cameras, administrative and security staff can zoom in on
crucial details of an incident to identify faces, clothing and even
license plates. Having cameras on campus has become so widely
accepted by parents that they now fully expect video to settle the
blame-game in any student altercations.
This article originally appeared in the November 2010 issue of Security Today.