Building A Virtual Fence
Network cameras secure 25 Arizona schools and district offices
- By Del V. Salvi
- Jul 01, 2012
Security is a cornerstone of the Kyrene School
District in Tempe, Ariz. The scope of the district’s
new video surveillance system reflects
just how important security is: A total of 1,800
Panasonic network video cameras provide a
360-degree “virtual video fence” to protect each
of the district’s 25 schools as well as the district
In 2004, the Kyrene School District created a strategic improvement
plan, and in 2005, fundraising from a capital bond allowed many of the
planned projects to be implemented. The plan included a goal “to provide
high-quality, safe facilities that support healthy student learning
environments for students, staff, buildings and equipment.” Merrill
Technology Architects in Mesa, led by Alan Merrill, was hired to
develop a comprehensive integrated security system design for all
campuses, which would include video surveillance, access control and
The objective of the extensive new surveillance system was to provide
full coverage of each school’s campus and record anyone who
approached a building, parking area or playground structure. Cameras
were installed to watch entrances, exits and multipurpose rooms used
by outside groups on the weekends. To help control vandalism, cameras
were positioned outside student restrooms to watch students
entering and exiting.
“It was critical that we deliver and implement a system that was
long-lasting and would work without question,” said Mark Share,
director of technology at Kyrene School District.
In 2009, a request for proposal (RFP) was issued, and in July of that
year, Amer-X was chosen as the integrator from among several companies
that bid on the project. Amer-X, a Scottsdale-based dealer and
integrator and provider of card access, video and intrusion systems,
also operates a UL-listed monitoring service. The installer selected
“When planning the system, we were happy to hear a familiar brand
name with a reputation for high-quality products,” said John Diehl,
network engineering and system coordinator for the Kyrene School
District. “As part of the bid process, we required demonstrations of the
cameras, and after we saw firsthand the capabilities of Panasonic network
cameras, we knew they would offer a superior surveillance solution
for the school district.”
Large System by Any Measure
Kyrene is a K-8 school district that serves parts of Tempe, Chandler,
Guadalupe and Phoenix, as well as portions of the Gila River Indian
Community within Maricopa County. The district has 19 elementary
schools and six middle schools with a total student population of about
18,000. The district office, the Ben Furlong Education Center, is located
Before the new system was installed, the schools had a hodgepodge of intrusion alarm systems in various states of operation. Most schools
had intrusion detection with motion detection, although some systems
were older and no longer operational. If an alarm sounded, a caretaker
living on campus would be alerted and call the police. One limited
video system—analog cameras tied to a VCR—was operating at one of
the middle schools that had a history of vandalism.
Work began on the new system in September 2009, and all the elementary
and middle school installations were completed by August
2011. The installation was large by any measure: it included 1,800 cameras,
33 NVRs and 418 terabytes of storage. Each elementary school
uses between 55 and 64 network cameras that tie into an NVR. Principals
can access video from their schools’ cameras using an easy-to-use
Web browser that connects to the NVR at their location. The system is
used mostly “after the fact” rather than for real-time monitoring, typically
to investigate an event from the weekend or the night before. At
each of the middle schools, video from more than 100 cameras is
recorded onto two NVRs.
An all-new cabling infrastructure was installed at the locations of
the cameras, which use PoE and do not require a separate power
source. Adopting PoE provided the district additional flexibility in
terms of relocating cameras, eliminating the additional cost for the
wiring of new electrical outlets. While the cameras connect to the district’s
existing network in the schools, video traffic is segmented from
other network traffic on its own virtual local area network (VLAN).
Video travels across the VLAN only when needed. Bandwidth isn’t an
issue; each school site has a gigabit network, connected to the district
office through a district-wide, fiber-optic infrastructure.
At the district office, DSX access control software was integrated
with the system to provide live and recorded images from cameras. The
central office can view a video image related to an access control event,
such as denied access. If anyone clicks on a transaction of any access
control report, the system will pull up recorded video associated with
that event. In the event of a crisis or emergency, the district office uses
Panasonic’s i-PRO Management Software, which provides access to
live views or recorded video from any camera at any school.
Systemwide, there are about 418 terabytes of video storage, with
each recorder providing 13 to 18 terabytes. The goal is to store video
for 30 days—recorded at five images per second—enough to cover all
school breaks except for the summer.
Motion detection functionality on the security cameras enables
zones to be created within a camera’s view, and motion sensed within
the zone will trigger recording. For example, vehicles passing on the
street will not trigger video recording because they are not within a
camera’s specified zone. Also, the district is respectful of neighbors’
privacy and uses the cameras’ privacy masking functionality to block
out images of windows or yards. Most of the cameras do not send
video to the NVR unless there is movement; this motion-triggered
recording minimizes the need for additional storage space.
Cameras Indoors and Outdoors
About a dozen vandal-proof network dome cameras are used at each
elementary school, and between 20 and 30 are used at each middle
school. The cameras’ VGA images provide views of restroom exits
and other doorways to help identify who enters or exits with an
access reader. The Super Dynamic feature enables cameras to deal
with sudden bright light and maintain image quality when, for example,
a door opens. The cameras are also used in kitchens and other
Outdoors, Panasonic’s WV-NW502 H.264 camera provides
1.3-megapixel images. This vandal-resistant, fixed-dome network camera
had just been introduced to the market when the Kyrene project
was being installed, and it quickly became the primary camera used for
the exterior of campuses because of its megapixel image quality. The
camera is also used in select indoor applications such as gymnasiums
or multi-purpose rooms that are used on the weekends and larger interior
areas such as long hallways. In each front office, the camera provides
clear images of anyone coming in or out.
To capture license plates of vehicles passing through driveways or
drop-off/pickup areas, the Panasonic i-PRO WV-NP502 box camera is
used with a 15-55 mm lens. Three or more box cameras are used at
each elementary school and up to five are used at each middle school.
“We made sure we had coverage of the playground structures with
exterior cameras,” said Eric Peloquin, vice president of Amer-X. “If
someone fell or got hurt, we would have video of the incident. Afterhours
and on weekends, we can use those views to prevent vandalism.
Cameras also watch basketball courts, which are used by students during
school or after-hours, again to prevent possible vandalism and
monitor any injuries that may occur.
“For all of the cameras incorporated into the system’s installation,
the auto back-focus feature assisted technicians fine-tuning the cameras
to get the best image quality. This feature simplified the process
while allowing us to see crystal-clear images of what was going on in
the school district at any given time.”
In the last several months, cameras also have been installed at the
district offices, which include an administration building, a food-services
warehouse, transportation maintenance, a facilities department—
for plumbing and HVAC—grounds maintenance and other departments—about 10 buildings in total, spread across several acres.
Cameras provide exterior views and can enable the identification of
vehicle license plates as they come and go. Watching the perimeter of
the buildings, general views record traffic flows, and, if an accident
occurs, there is video of it. Cameras also view the fuel-pump area,
where buses and district vehicles gas up, and the warehouse and loading
dock, where products come into the district. Also in range is a
parts room that contains expensive parts for vehicle maintenance and
storage areas that house lawn mowers and grounds equipment.
How Surveillance is Helpful
The video cameras have already demonstrated their value in several
instances. For example, a school found that a basketball hoop had been
pulled down over the weekend. The video showed kids hanging onto
the rim until it broke. When there was vandalism in a middle school
restroom, video showed some students high-fiving each other as they
exited. Video has also captured the theft of bicycles from bike racks
and, in the parking lot, cameras have recorded car accidents.
Video also helps with general maintenance. When a water main broke
in front of a school, video clearly showed how and when it happened.
“Surveillance also enables school administrators to re-evaluate
procedures such as recess and parent and bus drop-offs,” Diehl said.
“They can see the flow of activities and make changes. For example,
when students were coming in late, administrators were able to
determine that the students were being dropped off at the wrong
door and correct the problem by alerting parents to the proper designated
The system recently provided safety during a serious crisis in which
an active shooter appeared at a shopping mall near one of the schools.
The school went into lockdown, which means no badge can open any
door, and the video system enabled administrators to watch the school
from the outside and inside until the danger subsided.
“We could see how teachers and students responded,” Share said.
“We saw that the staff was sitting near glass windows, so we called and
asked them to move. Video increased the level of support we could
provide to the school during the crisis.”
On another occasion, there was a report of someone who was driving
by the school and rolling down his car window and talking to students.
After the incident was reported to the principal and on-site officers,
cameras provided multiple, clear images of the car, including its
make and color. The video even showed the suspected predator rolling
down the passenger window and leaning over. TV stations publicized
the incident, and an arrest was made.
“It was very rewarding to get that information to the police,” Diehl
said. “The cameras helped us see the vehicle go by and provided key
images, which helped the police in apprehending the suspect.”
IP System Advantages
Among the advantages of using an IP-based networked system is the
ability to troubleshoot cameras across the network. Panasonic network
cameras provide built-in notification capabilities that send an email
across the network if one or more cameras are down. Also, the network
administrator can “ping” a camera to confirm its status. Another
advantage of a network solution is the integration between systems; in
this case, Panasonic engineers worked to develop an interface with the
DSX access control system.
Panasonic coordinated with distributor ScanSource to supply cameras
that were preprogrammed with the Web address—also listed on
the box—to facilitate installation. Installers merely had to match each
camera to its location based on the system drawing.
“When you’re hanging 1,800 cameras, getting that done at a central
location saves a lot of time,” Peloquin said.
The integrator and end users work closely with John Dobradenka of
Open Door Inc. when technical issues arise. Open Door provides local
support for Panasonic’s products.
In the time it has taken to install the system, the quality of the images
has become even better, say the end users. For example, the newer
megapixel cameras provide better images and get critical, close-up
shots. Also, higher-resolution images enable fewer cameras to be used
on some sites to cover the same area.
What Comes Next
The principals and administrators who use the video have suggested a
number of additional locations where cameras should be added to
view a specific area, subject to NVR capacity. Because the schools are
not exactly alike, district-wide standards are used as guidelines to
determine the level of surveillance at each school.
Under an ongoing maintenance contract, Amer-X will support the
system during a warranty period. One maintenance challenge is dust
collecting on the exterior of camera domes, which can degrade the
camera image. Especially during the Arizona monsoon season, the
occurrence of dust storms necessitates that cameras be cleaned at least
twice a year. Amer-X is working with the school district to develop
specialized equipment to clean the domes—including configuring a
power-sprayer on an extension pole to make it easier to reach the
domes. Nevertheless, Panasonic’s weather-resistant cameras are
expected to hold up well even in the harsh outdoor environment.
This article originally appeared in the Security Products Magazine - July 2012 issue of Security Today.