Class Is In Session
Building a strong solution for K-12 schools
- By Russell Ost
- Jan 01, 2017
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.