IP School Security Goes District Wide

IP School Security Goes District Wide

With tight budgets, schools look at flexibility

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 these locations.

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 middle school.

“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 New Solution

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.

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