Driving demand for better video coverage at schools
- By Brian Carle
- Apr 01, 2016
School surveillance continues to be one of the
most important markets for video surveillance,
And with good reason. The safety of students
including those with special needs, vandalism,
fights and outsider threats are all driving
demand for better video coverage.
Similar to many consumer segments, school systems share some
common challenges and requirements. Understanding those can aid
with technology selection and system design.
When combining data from multiple complimentary security systems,
the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts.
Most schools have some form of intrusion system, which by using a
variety of sensors such as motion, glass break and door sensors, can
detect unauthorized activity. Integration with the video surveillance
system provides multiple benefits. When an event is detected, the
recording frame rate could be accelerated. More importantly, integration
can result in the ability to send snapshots or video clips to building
management for visual verification of what may have triggered the
intrusion system, saving on false alarms and providing valuable situational
awareness to first responders.
Lockdown systems are becoming more popular for schools. Lockdown
systems perform a series of actions on the push of a button,
allowing predefined emergency procedures to be easily kicked off
when an external threat is suspected, such as triggering the mass notification
of faculty and staff, locking doors and notifying first responders.
When integrated with video, the lockdown system can increase
recording rates, provide snapshots or video clips with notifications to
first responders and can lockout low priority video users from accessing
video feeds which could inadvertently prevent access for high priority
users in an emergency.
Finally, a new technology is emerging that will likely prove to be a
key component to future school surveillance systems: social media monitoring. A social media monitoring service
aggregates social media from popular
services like Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.
Posts can be filtered by key words and geography
to allow schools to identify social media
activity which could indicate a threat. The
technology is unique compared to other components
of a security system in that it can
allow security monitoring professionals to
identify threats before they occur. Integration
with video allows for visual verification of the
person posting as well as correlation of real
world events with social media reports.
Many schools have legacy analog camera
equipment in place that still functions well.
Replacing cabling or augmenting coax infrastructure
with Ethernet-conversion equipment,
and replacing cameras to upgrade to IP
is in most cases cost prohibitive. Strategies
which allow existing cameras to be used and
upgraded over time are much more palatable.
In these situations, it is common for DVRs
to be replaced in advance of cameras. DVRs
can be swapped out to IP based VMS systems
or hybrid VMS platforms as a first step
towards technology migration. Using a VMS
and encoders, system design professionals
would need to consider the costs of managing
many individual encoders, each with IP
addresses, firmware to update and settings to
configure. Additionally, each encoder will
consume a switch port and require power.
Switch port and power outlet consumption
may be dramatically reduced when using a
hybrid NVR where the analog cameras connect
directly to the NVR and share power and
network connectivity with the recording platform.
Encoders do provide an advantage at
sites with fewer cameras, where it may be
more cost effective to stream the video back
to a centralized NVR using an encoder.
360-degree cameras have quickly become
popular for school deployments. They can be
effective tools for providing great coverage of
hallways at intersections. In this scenario,
multiple video feeds are pulled from the same
camera, each showing a different hallway.
This setup reduces camera counts for hallway
monitoring and often reduces the number of
VMS licenses that need to be purchased.
The majority of popular VMS platforms
will allow multiple video feeds from a 360
camera for a single software license, making
it economically feasible to provide good
System Management in a
Larger districts benefit greatly from a focus
on how system management, health monitoring
and configuration can be accomplished.
Without centralized management tools, the
time spent performing maintenance and
updates will grow as the system expands.
As the system grows there is also an
increased risk of cameras going down without
being noticed. In order to reduce the risk of
not recording an important security event,
automated notification of system issues
should be an available feature and properly
Sharing Video with 3rd Parties
It’s becoming more common for larger school
districts to provide external access to other
municipal authorities. Most commonly,
police and 911 dispatch as well as emergency
management benefit from access to a school
system’s video surveillance feeds. In the event
of emergency, first responders can see exactly
what’s happening and where in real time,
which helps to provide the most effective and
Important considerations include ensuring
reliable connectivity to video feeds and
securing the system from unauthorized
Ensuring the school’s WAN conn ection has
suitable bandwidth available to stream the
video is an important design step. Quality of
Service (QoS) can be configured to dedicate
bandwidth to the video system ensuring reliable
remote access to video. Some VMS platforms
offer bandwidth saving features such as
dual streaming or transcoding. When the
video is not being displayed in its full resolution
these features will automatically provide
a lower resolution version of the video for live
display, further reducing bandwidth consumption.
In combination with allocating the
appropriate amount of bandwidth on the
WAN connection, these bandwidth saving
capabilities increase the reliability of remote
access during an emergency situation.
In most deployments, remote access to the
school’s system would be provided over the
internet making unauthorized access a significant
concern. Using a VPN to access the
video surveillance system provides a layer of
authentication beyond the VMS itself and
ensures the communications are encrypted.
Another best practice is to configure a white
list of authorized IP addresses on the school’s
VPN or firewall. These methods together help
ensure access to the
video can only be made
by authorized staff at
This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of Security Today.