Class Is In Session

Class Is In Session

Building a strong solution for K-12 schools

Students and the facilities in which they attend classes face more threats in today’s society than at any other point in history.

Strong security and emergency preparedness planning is critical to developing processes that ensure school safety. Additionally, the deployment of technology is important as it adds an additional protective layer. A comprehensive security technology solution can be a huge undertaking, and therefore must be a collaborative process. School boards, administrators and educators should work together to assess the needs of each campus, meet with integrators and manufacturers, and determine next steps based on what’s best for the school and, inevitably, the budget. Overall, there are a number of decisions to make regarding overall approach, customization, integration capability, official response and coverage, and total cost of ownership.

OVERALL APPROACH

To identify the right technology solutions, school districts must first make assessments on the specific needs of its facilities. Generally, K-12 schools face different problems than college campuses, and different geographic locations and even the building’s architecture can lead to complex security situations. For example, schools in metropolitan neighborhoods may face significant issues with vandalism and breakins, while suburban facilities may focus on reducing issues of bullying or abuse, and in today’s ever-evolving risk environment, all want to prepare for the threat of an active shooter. Prior to identifying the solutions that can help solve these challenges, it is critical to understand how the system will be used from an administrative point of view and beyond.

There is a difference between open and closed campuses, and how that affects the school’s security posture. Open campuses may not have locked fences, with areas such as playgrounds and sports fields that are open to the public. These differ significantly from closed campuses, which have the ability to lock gates to keep intruders off the grounds. Some schools also have after-hours activities in which a wide variety of people may need access to a campus facility. In this case, a school may require additional cameras in a meeting area, such as the cafeteria or conference room, to offer greater coverage and enhanced visibility.

Schools might also have unique goals, such as using analytics to solve problems in the school’s drop-off area. For example, a school may have experienced an injury to a child being dropped off that is directly caused by the speed of passing cars, and would like to solve this problem. By implementing video intelligence, data can be collected about the speed of cars passing by and evidence presented to local authorities to help address the issue. This can be done by posting more patrol units, lowering speed limits or installing speed bumps to slow traffic and make the streets safer.

OFFICIAL RESPONSE AND COVERAGE

K-12 schools have different approaches in regards to response scenarios, as well. First, at the most basic level, some schools desire the ability for officials to have mobile access, either through a smartphone or tablet, to the school’s video management system. Through this approach, when an incident arises and first responders are called, a school official can hand over a mobile device for the officers to access the relevant video and see a better picture of what is happening to drive a more informed, effective response.

The next approach allows school officials to share video with local police within dispatch centers by providing login credentials to mobile applications. Once a call is placed to the department, dispatchers can access relevant video and simultaneously brief first responders en route to an incident. This provides valuable, real-time information to identify risks and assess the situation before an officer sets foot on campus, providing greater safety for the officer who is apprised of the situation immediately.

The final approach, and arguably the best scenario, to building a comprehensive video-based security system is establishing a partnership between the police department and the school by using the same user interface. In this scenario, dispatchers can simply pull up the necessary video feed on the department’s interface to assess the situation and make better decisions about how to proceed. This particular situation is being utilized at large school districts and on college campuses to help maximize budgets, as well as ensure the safety of responding officers.

INTEGRATION BETWEEN SYSTEMS

Following the identification of specific goals within the school, security providers are able to sit down and design the right approach. During this process, it is critical that integrators and specifiers take existing technology investments into account and determine if integration is necessary. For example, some schools have access control, emergency and fire alarm systems in place, and would like to integrate those functions with video surveillance to bolster communication between these platforms. In the design phase, it’s important to identify these systems so that the proper processes will allow for seamless integration of all of these platforms into a single user interface.

This brings about a new paradigm shift between manufacturers, as more and more systems work together and are able to share information instead of providing one-way communication, allowing data to flow in both directions for greater awareness.

CUSTOMIZATION

With any security system, aesthetics are important, and in the K-12 atmosphere, sometimes implementing security can come at a great cost to the overall feel of the environment. Video surveillance technology can be deployed and still maintain the ambience of a welcoming facility that is conducive to learning. In an attempt to provide full coverage, however, a common challenge occurs when a large number of cameras are installed within a small campus, which may result in some distraction for students and faculty, and provide a “big brother” feel to the environment.

Some manufacturers have dedicated resources to support special modification requests, which allow nearly all camera domes, housings and mounts to be customized to help blend into any environment. Color matching is popular, as schools choose to blend the cameras into the surrounding area or paint the devices to match the school’s colors. Other options include blending with various materials, such as stucco, brick, granite or marble surfaces.

COVERAGE

Traditionally, PTZ cameras have been commonplace on school campuses. However, as budgets are cut, many schools do not have the manpower to have security officials constantly watching video footage coming in, and taking advantage of the ability to pan, tilt and zoom over an area. Unlike higher education facilities, many K-12 schools don’t have dedicated police departments or dispatch centers and tend to be more reactionary in nature, as well.

As a result, K-12 schools are looking more and more to install panoramic view cameras that offer maximum coverage in fewer units, as a single 360-degree camera can replace up to four traditional, fixed cameras. With panoramic cameras, viewers can still pan, tilt and zoom within the video collected and recorded to see incidents more clearly and offer investigators the greatest amount of information possible.

TOTAL COST OF OWNERSHIP

Today’s panoramic cameras, while a newer, emerging technology, are becoming more and more affordable for schools to fit within budgetary constraints. Additionally, video management systems on the market today are able to integrate with a number of third-party vendors to bring together multiple systems, such as visitor management, building controls and access control. By identifying all of the necessary solutions that need to work together and be implemented, schools can save money down the road and reduce the need for constant upgrades by making sure solutions are scalable and flexible enough for future considerations. While no one can predict the future, manufacturers can help ensure current technology investments are leveraged by working with integrators on campus security projects to construct a long-term risk management approach to security.

With the safety of schools and children at the forefront of today’s risk environment, video surveillance manufacturers must take many factors into account to best address these concerns. Working together with school administrators, security officials and local law enforcement can enhance video surveillance coverage and ensure total cooperation in the event of a security breach.

This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of Security Today.

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