IP School Security Goes District Wide
With tight budgets, schools look at flexibility
- By Barbara Winkler-Chimbor
- Aug 01, 2011
Keeping schools secure is an unarguably
important task with inherent
challenges. Often, teachers are outnumbered
by students, and having
enough eyes to make sure all areas are
monitored is generally a very daunting task. It is not
economically feasible, nor practical, to simply continue
hiring additional aides to help watch over various
areas of a school campus.
Furthermore, school budgets are notoriously tight,
and any proposed solution must not only provide a
lot of value relative to its price, but also be flexible
enough to grow over time as new needs arise and new
funds become available.
Carlos Rosa, the manager of information technology
at Mahwah Township Public Schools (MTPS)
in New Jersey, knows these challenges all too well.
Touching the northern border of the state, MTPS is
home to six schools overseeing 3,450 children. The
district has seven locations: one high school (with two
auxiliary buildings), one middle school, four elementary
schools and one administration building. Rosa is
responsible for overseeing security operations at all of
Rosa researched security integrators in the area
and eventually sought the expertise of Richard Adams,
senior account manager at Let’s Think Wireless.
Together, Adams and Rosa developed and customized
a security system for the school district. They
installed 25 analog cameras in the high school and
an additional 14 in the middle school, all of which
tied into the local CCTV systems. They also installed
access control systems at the middle school and high
school front doors.
This initial camera deployment was successful, but
required MTPS to install a secondary communication
infrastructure parallel to its existing network. This
resulted in inefficiencies, unplanned costs and a sluggish
security system. At this point, Rosa decided to go
with a longer-term solution, because he knew future
expansion would bring these issues up again.
This time, Rosa was looking for something “future-
proof” and Web-based to increase monitoring
efficiency. He wanted a networked solution because
it both cost less to install, thanks to reduced cabling
needs, and offered a speedier deployment. IP also enables
easier scalability for future system growth and
allows integration within the existing network. With
the district spread over seven physical locations and
nine buildings, IP allows all devices to link into a centrally
held storage server instead of requiring local
systems at each location.
MTPS was also interested in a much more sophisticated
access control system and a deeper level of integration
with its video surveillance solution. Removing
the need to switch between user interfaces, as well
as the need for disjointed and timely lookups to find
out which door corresponded with which camera,
would greatly improve the system’s overall efficacy.
Using IP Security Technology
to Reach Excellence
After discussing the district’s needs, Adams suggested
Genetec’s Security Center unified security platform,
using Omnicast for video surveillance and Synergis
for access control. Adams said he believes that Genetec
“is a leader in the industry with video surveillance
and access control together in one package. It is ideal
for schools, providing the best bang for their buck and
simplicity of operation.”
MTPS was pleased with the high quality, varied
and expansible features the security center offered,
and the school district opted to move forward with an
implementation of the unified platform. Fortunately,
it was able to protect its previous investments by incorporating
existing analog cameras into the new system
via IP encoders.
Additionally, new IP cameras from Axis Communications—AXIS M3014 and AXIS
P3343 fixed domes—were added to
hallways and other high-traffic areas.
This provided school personnel with
better image quality, including HDTV
video, in an unobtrusive format and increased
situational awareness with embedded
features such as motion detection,
audio detection, digital PTZ and
camera tampering alarms.
The third-party access control hardware
was also repurposed for the Genetec
solution by replacing only a small
number of components with compatible
hardware. The number of protected
doors was increased to a total of six at
the high school and an additional four
to protect the indoor passageways at the
“The implementation went smoothly—
that’s the beauty of it,” Rosa said.
Though the district’s previous installation
had unplanned downtime issues,
“the Security Center has proven itself
exceedingly reliable. No matter how robust
your server is, if you have poorly
coded software, you have problems. Genetec’s
software has eliminated our previous
problems,” Rosa said.
The school district’s security center
is running on two servers, a vestige of
the previous system that had storage
limitations of between one and two
terabytes. MTPS will soon integrate a
new HP server to increase its storage
capacity to between 11 and 12 terabytes.
It will afford Rosa the ability to
archive up to 30 days of video instead
of the current three to four days.
Using Security Center’s Web-based
software means that MTPS had no need
to install software copies on each PC,
saving valuable time when rolling out
the system. Anyone with access rights
can monitor the system from anywhere,
including a handheld device, which improves
convenience and response time.
For service needs, Let’s Think Wireless
is able to remotely access the system
when needed, saving the district money
by eliminating site visits to address any
hiccups it encounters. Additionally,
Rosa said, “Genetec is unique in providing
a friendly and knowledgeable
support team which is happy to provide
top-notch service like checking camera
firmware for compatibility, whereas
most other companies will bounce customers
to the hardware manufacturer
to get answers.”
The Merits of the
Installing the Security Center on
MTPS’s campuses has afforded administrators
a catchall security safety
net, keeping eyes on all corners of the
campuses to ensure students stay safe.
Cameras monitor school entrances,
bathroom entrances, hallways and
stairwells, cafeterias and gymnasiums.
These surveillance efforts serve a
multitude of needs, whether ensuring
only relevant people are on campus,
monitoring after-hours recreational activity
for physical safety, discouraging
theft and vandalism, concretely resolving
who-did-it issues among students or
keeping lunchtime under control. During
school hours, administrators can use
the system essentially to be in all places
at once. After hours, the system shelves
video and access control data should the need arise to review it later.
The Security Center’s ability to track from camera
to camera and its unification of video surveillance
and access control allow users to watch an individual
walking down a hall and through a door, and
then to pull the person’s identification information
from the access control swipe as they do. This type
of usability greatly enhances the system’s efficacy as
compared to more archaic solutions, which require
a system map to manually look up which camera is
viewing which door.
“Security Center is proactive, not reactive. Genetec
has thought ahead and knows the feature set that is
most important to the practical deployment of a security
system,” Rosa said.
MTPS has also issued access cards to law enforcement
personnel, ensuring that in the unlikely event of
an emergency or security issue, officers have access
to the buildings. Moreover, Security Center is userfriendly,
allowing different types of users to operate
the system and presenting each with only the type
and depth of information that individual needs. Officers
and school principals can employ a simplified
user profile that accesses only video feeds, whereas administration
can access a deeper level of data for their
more technically advanced needs.
MTPS only recently acquired Security Center, yet
the system has already addressed ingress and egress
issues in the schools. This, in turn, keeps students
safer on a daily basis. Omnicast’s presence has also
helped to keep the community on the straight and
narrow. As Omnicast is implemented, camera visibility
maintains a level of discipline among students
and citizens in the surrounding areas, preventing issues
before they arise.
Overall, Security Center has proven to be a great
asset to MTPS, Rosa said. The district has been
so pleased with the installation that it has plans to
continue integrating additional features as funds
become available, including allocating a portion of
the annual budget to additional cameras and expansion
of both Omnicast and Synergis to all campuses.
MTPS’s initial security concerns have been addressed,
and now Rosa can look to the future and
plan for additions to this base in order to keep the
system current and one step ahead of the district’s
dynamic and evolving needs.
“Genetec’s Security Center is an excellent fit for
school systems because it covers everything you can
possibly need, without requiring full feature commitment
up front,” Rosa said. “Schools require the
ability to purchase features piecemeal as funds and
need arise, but only a unified system like Genetec’s
will allow all newly acquired devices and features
to dovetail precisely when the time is right to bring
them to the table.”
This article originally appeared in the August 2011 issue of Security Today.