The Fiscal Side of School Security

The Fiscal Side of School Security

Tapping public funds to pay for smarter technology solutions

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. 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 is closed.

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 altogether.

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 their projects.

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 reduce costs.
  • 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.

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