The Fiscal Side of School Security
Tapping public funds to pay for smarter technology solutions
- By John Merlino
- Nov 01, 2013
We’ve all seen the headlines. School violence,
vandalism and crime appear to be on the rise.
The debate over active shooter preparation is
taking precedence over bullying prevention,
which came to a head following the Department
of Education’s June report that suggested
the run-hide-fight approach. Regularly
scheduled crisis drills with police and first
responders are becoming commonplace. While
some legislators are considering arming
teachers and staff, many educational institutions
see security technology—cameras, fences,
door locks—as a more acceptable weapon
for frontline defense.
But, it’s more than a matter of bringing the right technology to bear.
With so many schools in dire financial straits, institutions need solutions
that can improve school safety without a calamitous impact on their
budgets. So, it is also a matter of finding ways to defray project costs.
Designing the Right Solution
Educators aren’t security experts, so they need to partner with integrators
and consultants who can guide them through the practical aspects
of designing and deploying a workable security strategy for their
schools and campuses. What surveillance tools will help identify, detect and deter problems? Which will be most effective in an emergency
situation? Which will help prosecute offenders?
It all starts with a needs and risk assessment.
Whether the solution is needed for a single school or multiple campuses,
you need to determine the security needs for each location. A
thorough review of existing security measures and systems currently
in place will establish a baseline for each environment. School administrators,
teachers, resource officers, facilities staff and, where possible,
law enforcement and first responders should all share in the conversation
to ensure no valuable insight or expertise is overlooked.
The following questions need to be answered:
What needs to be protected? Be sure to consider the number of
building entrances, parking lots and drop-off areas, hallways, common
areas, athletic fields, storage facilities and technology assets that need
to be covered.
When does it need protecting? Determine regular school hours,
how late afterschool activities run and if the facilities are open in the
evening or on weekends for community use, or at night when the campus
Who are all the security players? Define who will need access and/or
control of the surveillance system and who will only be granted viewing
privileges. In addition to specific campus staff—administrators, resource
officers, campus security, building maintenance—determine if the
superintendent and/or local law enforcement will also play a role.
Will the surveillance tie in with other systems within the building?
Decide if cameras need to interface with access control systems,
fire alarms, PA systems or smoke detectors.
Once a thorough assessment has been made, the next step is to
determine what technologies can help the school achieve overt or
covert surveillance, deterrence or prosecution, mobile video or some
combination of each. Here are some choices to consider:
- True day/night cameras and lowlight, full-color cameras operate
under infrared lighting conditions or in very low lux, giving security
staff added visibility at night when vandals think they can operate
undetected. An added benefit is that schools can greatly reduce
lighting during off hours, thus, lowering their energy bills.
- HDTV-quality cameras provide a wealth of detail to identify
intruders and perpetrators while delivering solid, forensic evidence
that can lead to successful prosecution. Combined with efficient
compression technologies, like H.264, schools can receive great
image quality while minimizing bandwidth consumption.
- Discreet or pinhole cameras can be concealed in walls and ceilings
for covert surveillance and sting operations as they’re both mobile
and adaptable to the environment.
- In-camera storage via SD cards can be used as backup if the network
link to the archiving server goes down. In some low-activity
or small-system environments, SD cards can replace the server
Since virtually every institution has a network infrastructure in
place today for their existing IT technology, it makes sense to piggyback
an IP video solution onto that backbone to save on installation
costs while scaling for the future. This topology can also easily extend
to local law enforcement and first responders in an emergency situation,
providing temporary access to live video and critical situational
awareness needed do their jobs effectively.
Working within Financial Constraints
Because schools generally don’t have deep pockets, it’s important to
build fiscally responsible surveillance solutions that won’t drain budgets
or strain resources.
One strategy is to use network cameras that support advanced
H.264 compression because this technology easily supports streaming
video across campus. Applying H.264 compression also significantly
reduces bandwidth consumption, minimizes any impact on other network
traffic and requires less on- and off-site storage.
Another strategy is to educate school decision makers about reasonable
frame rates and resolutions that provide sufficient detail for activities
taking place in particular locations. Different frame rates can be programmed at different times of the day, depending on the activity.
For example, set a higher frame rate in a hallway when classes let out
or in the cafeteria during lunch hour, and then dial it back when activity
is known to subside.
A third strategy involves repurposing existing analog technology.
Many institutions have made a significant investment in analog products
and need to fully recognize some return on those assets. Digitizing
working, analog cameras with video encoders allows the school to
begin a migration path to an all-IP system while leveraging dollars
previously spent on CCTV.
A final strategy is to incorporate video analytics that will reduce
the amount of video being captured, and speed up the search for
specific incident footage. For instance, cameras can be set to only
record on motion or audio detection, eliminating the cost of storing
hours of non-essential video. Intelligent search features help administrators
quickly scan video for a specific missing object or altercation,
so they can spend less time investigating and more time on
other important duties.
Schools today rely on integrators and consultants to fully understand
their unique needs and requirements to recommend the best
solution to meet them. Providing a consultative approach across the
design and technology spectrum is paramount.
Partner for Funding: Relationships
that Bring More Value
Besides helping the school decide on the technology parameters to
run their surveillance system more cost-efficiently, experienced
systems integrators provide another value-added layer to the relationship
by assisting institutions in securing public funding for
By teaming with a consultant who has specialized knowledge in the
field of educational grant writing, educational institutions can discover
how to tap a wide number of financial resources specifically earmarked
for school security and safety. Oftentimes, the cost of the grant writer
can be covered in the grant itself.
Here are just a few of the possible funding sources worth exploring:
- GSA’s Cooperative Purchasing Program allows state and local governments—including
public schools and institutions of higher education—to purchase
safety and security-related products and services under the same
terms and conditions as federal agencies. By using GSA’s prenegotiated,
schedule contracts, local officials can save time and
- Grants.gov Program provides a centralized
location for grant seekers to find and apply for federal funding opportunities.
Today, the Grants.gov system houses information on more
than 1,000 grant programs for 26 federal, grant-making agencies.
- Emergency Planning Resources from the U.S. Department of
Education requires some navigation, but it is another useful site for
identifying grant opportunities.
When educational institutions work hand-in-hand with knowledgeable
technology and integration partners to identify
and tap readily-available, public funds, the video
surveillance project envisioned is more likely to get
underwritten and deployed.
This article originally appeared in the November 2013 issue of Security Today.
John Merlino is the segment development manager, Critical Government at Axis Communications.