Dismissing Analog

Dismissing Analog

Topeka School District greatly improves security for safer educational environment with IP video surveillance

TOPEKA KANSAS UNITED SCHOOL DISTRICT (USD) 501 ONCE RELIED ON LIMITED ANALOG SECURITY SYSTEMS TO COVER A FEW OF ITS 40 SCHOOL CAMPUSES AND FACILITIES. THESE STANDALONE SYSTEMS WERE NOT CONNECTED AND PRODUCED POOR IMAGE QUALITY THAT RESULTED IN DIFFICULTIES ADDRESSING AND RESOLVING INCIDENTS. AS SCHOOL SAFETY ISSUES CONTINUED TO PERSIST, PERFORMANCE WAS IMPACTED AND ENROLLMENT DROPPED AT SOME DISTRICT SCHOOLS.

The increase in incidents and safety concerns prompted the district to perform a security audit that involved the Topeka Police Department school resource officers, the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force and the Department of Homeland Security. The agencies made recommendations for an enhanced digital surveillance system to monitor activity on and around school campuses.

Following the audit, the district was awarded a federal security grant for a pilot project to implement a new IP video system for Highland Park High School. The district then set out to find a security partner to help identify the solution that could accurately and efficiently help school resource officers monitor and respond to security issues to ensure the safety of students, staff and facilities.

INSTITUTIONAL PROFILE

Topeka Public Schools USD 501 covers all of Topeka city and is the third largest school district in Kansas. The district includes more than 14,000 students attending classes in 40 buildings. The district has three high schools, six middle schools and 17 elementary schools. It is widely known for its role in the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education school desegregation case of 1954.

MULTI-LOCATION SOLUTION

In choosing its new solution, the district worked with local integrator ISG Technology. ISG has been named Milestone Partner of the Year and has a long history of expertise installing Milestone solutions. ISG worked closely with the school to identify the solution that would meet their needs—starting with Milestone XProtect Corporate VMS and 150 Axis network cameras, plus integrated S2 Security access control for door monitoring.

After the implementation of the new digital video system in 2011, incidents at Highland Park High School were reduced significantly. Following the pilot project success, the district began expanding the system in 2012 to cover two additional high schools and alternative schools, with 450 more cameras. Officials then added cameras at the middle schools. Once they had eight schools covered by IP cameras, it became clear that they should implement a central command center so all data could be monitored efficiently from one location. This approach offered considerable cost savings over installing multiple servers and infrastructure at different locations.

The district voted in 2015 to continue expanding the Milestone/Axis solution to cover schools across the district and add monitoring capabilities using the Milestone Mobile client that gives access to the video from smartphones and laptops. Currently, the district’s system covers 15 schools with about 1,200 cameras, and there are plans to add approximately 1,000 cameras and cover 25 more schools by mid-2017.

IP NETWORK ADVANTAGES

Milestone’s IP VMS provided a significant upgrade to the district’s analog system and greatly enhanced its ability to centrally monitor and efficiently respond to incidents on and around school campuses. The added functionality of the Milestone software allows the district to easily access video locally at individual school locations or off site on computers or mobile devices.

With hundreds more cameras than its previous system, the district can now view video from throughout the campuses without worrying about blind spots. Axis cameras provide a much higher video quality than the district’s prior analog system and enable school officers to monitor suspicious people and activity in surrounding neighborhoods. The district plans to share access to its video system with the Topeka emergency operations center to allow other first responders to view video in the event of an emergency or crime.

ADVANTAGES OF FEDERATED ARCHITECTURE

The district continues to implement the Milestone and Axis solution across its schools and recently moved to centralized management of the system with the Federated Architecture platform from Milestone XProtect Corporate. For Mike Reece, account manager for ISG’s Topeka branch, the move is both cost-effective and forward-thinking.

“We realized after doing a few schools that server costs were really adding up,” Reece said. “We decided to migrate to the Federated Architecture platform. It’s a move made with school budgets in mind, but more importantly with the future in mind. We’re adding district schools every year, which means adding more XProtect Corporate licenses. Now, each system is linked, and we have a central command center where every school and every camera is viewable. It’s immensely valuable.”

Through the Milestone Federated Architecture (MFS), system operators have access to video, audio and other resources across all the individual XProtect Corporate systems in the federated hierarchy based on their user rights in each system. In addition, administrators have the ability to centrally manage sites within the hierarchy through the Management Client, based on administration rights set up for the individual sites in the hierarchy. MFA is the perfect solution for the district: a large installation covering multiple buildings and campuses. It provides the district with unlimited scaling, flexibility and accessibility for more efficient, costeffective video surveillance across multiple sites.

AXIS IP CAMERAS PROVIDE FUNCTIONALITY AND FLEXIBILITY

Axis network cameras have now become the district standard. Reece appreciates the tight integration between Milestone and Axis, and that they are easy to install and offer a variety of options for every environment. He says the cameras adjust to light fluctuations extremely well, which is especially important in a school setting where doors are continually opening and letting sunlight flood the space.

Reece and his team at ISG worked closely with school resource officers to design a solution that provides coverage in the areas where it is needed. From parking lots to hallways, the district now has full surveillance where incidents may occur.

Director of School Safety for Topeka Public Schools Ron Brown has been instrumental in getting the district to expand and upgrade its video system. He’s been pleased with the Milestone and Axis solution and its ability to provide actionable information. “The IP zoom capabilities are very good. We’re able to identify kids a block or two away and see what they’re doing,” Brown said.

He added that coverage surrounding the schools helps protect the facilities since staff and officers are now able to monitor suspicious people, especially in high crime areas around some schools. The district also uses the cameras to monitor sporting events or school functions in gymnasiums and stadiums rather than having a lot of officers patrolling, which could be intrusive.

A ROBUST, EASY-TO-USE SYSTEM

The district’s Milestone VMS allows each officer to create custom views that are readily available when they log in. Jeremy Leithoff, school resource officer at Topeka High School, particularly likes being able to set cameras to a ‘home’ position so they automatically return to a set default when they are not being moved manually.

“When we get done looking for a student or staff member, we simply hit a button and it goes right back to a preset position,” Leithoff said.

Video from any camera within the district can now be viewed from any computer by users with login credentials. Milestone Mobile expands access to video from the district’s system by allowing those with access to view video on mobile devices (smartphones and tablets).

“Milestone is ahead of all other systems and its very user friendly,” Leithoff said. “The system is easy to learn, and even easier to use.”

The VMS system was also selected due to its grooming capabilities to lower the bit rate of video for more efficient storage. This allows the district to store larger amounts of video for a longer period of time, ‘pruning’ it into tiers brings cost savings.

The open platform provides the ability to fully integrate with an access control system from S2 Security. This has enabled the district to remotely lock and unlock doors from the video interface. By integrating cameras with the access control system, video is triggered to show camera views of doors being opened and closed, and can lock them if necessary.

PARTNERS FOR SUCCESS

According to Reece, ISG felt confident recommending a Milestone and Axis solution due to its previous experience with both products and its relationship with the companies.

“Milestone stands behind its products, and we knew we could get help if we ever needed it,” Reece said.

ISG hosts brief training events each time it rolls out the system to new schools and provides training booklets to district officers. Reece said the officers pick up the system easily and quickly learn new capabilities on their own.

This article originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of Security Today.

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