Network Video Has the Right Answers

IP video has new capabilities that make it much more accessible, user-friendly and generally more flexible than ever before. All of these features, in turn, render it a powerful tool for enhancing security efforts in the K-12 campus environment.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics Indicators of School Crime and Safety 2005 Report, approximately 20 percent of U.S. schools are using video surveillance; however, very few are using it to its full potential. As threats from both inside and outside the school walls continue to be a problem, campus administrators are being forced to reassess the effectiveness of their security measures.

Network video can help schools and districts maximize the impact of their safety and security programs. It can also improve the effectiveness of other systems that are already in place. Here are some practical tips for schools that recognize the value of video and are ready to go to the next level – both from a technology and implementation standpoint.

Video Should Be Preventive, Not Just Reactive
Images obtained from CCTV systems have long been used for security purposes inside K-12 schools, yet the vast majority of campuses are not using that video effectively or proactively. Given the limitations and complications of analog and VCR technology, many schools have become so accustomed to using video exclusively for response purposes that they have not considered the potential of network video to advance security, operations and risk management.

Network video represents great potential for transforming the way schools use video because it offers maximum flexibility, usability, scalability and functionality.

Internet protocol (IP) cameras connect directly with the existing IT network. These cameras act as just one more peripheral on the IT network – just like a printer – that can be easily managed and maintained by existing law enforcement/security, facility management or IT staff. The number of cameras that can be added to the network is unlimited as long as network considerations of bandwidth and storage capacity are managed.

In addition, video management software generally runs on any Windows®-based PC, just like any other application software, making it easy to deploy and use. As technologies converge and more systems become digital (including alarms, access control, audio and other technologies), network video will also be easier to seamlessly integrate with other systems.

Camera Systems Provide Timely Information to Police
Video can be used to not only detect, but also prevent unwanted behaviors, such as fights and vandalism. Administrators may wish to cover cafeteria areas to discourage students from initiating food fights. Security cameras in the hallways may also deter students from bullying or mistreating property.

By capturing incidents on camera, administrators can quickly identify the perpetrators and respond with swift disciplinary action, discouraging future fights and vandalism. In many cases, schools that deploy video find that students are on their best behavior, knowing they are being monitored.

Video can also be transformed into a lifesaving tool when shared with police via remote access. With network video management software, live video from any camera can be made available via any PC with an Internet connection and appropriate permissions. This allows law enforcement to view live video from the school in case of an emergency, allowing them to respond to incidents more quickly and effectively.

In the case of many school shootings that have occurred during the past decade, had the police had access to live views of the rooms where the suspects were holding hostages, they might have been able to assess the situation more accurately. Video could have helped law enforcement identify possible entry strategies by seeing what the kidnappers were doing and the amount and type of weapons in their possession.

CCTV Can Augment Fire Alarms, Other Processes
Video is perhaps the most powerful physical security technology available. The reason for this is simple – as humans, we believe what we see. This is why video is an extremely powerful tool in corroborating information from other systems, such as burglar and fire alarms, or access control.

Each of these other systems is designed with very specific functionality: providing alerts when the system detects an exception to the “normal” state (e.g. a door is closed in its “normal” state in most cases). Unfortunately, the data received from these other systems doesn’t give a full picture of what is happening. Frequent false alarms have a desensitizing effect, so when there is an actual emergency, the response may not be as strong or immediate as the situation requires.

For example, imagine a fire alarm sounds. This could be a false alarm or there could be an actual fire. If there is a fire, is it a major blaze spreading quickly or a small bag smoldering in a hallway?

Each of these examples would be handled very differently, but the information received from the fire alarm system doesn’t give any details. Video allows first responders to get a comprehensive view of the actual incident and deploy the appropriate resources to effectively manage the problem.

This technology also augments access control/visitor management systems and procedures. For instance, many schools keep doors locked during class hours and require all visitors to funnel through a central access point to prevent them from entering without notice. By providing office staff with live video of those entrances, they verify identification and allow entry when appropriate or keep unwanted persons out of the building.

This is much more convenient and cost effective than posting a security officer at the door throughout the day to check in visitors.

Systems Reduce Risk and Improve Campus Operations
Other innovative, proactive applications include monitoring potentially hazardous areas such as chemistry and biology labs where improper use of equipment can cause serious harm. With video, users are able to minimize their risk and protect themselves in the face of false accident claims or lawsuits.

Carpool lines and bus loading areas are frequently the sites of traffic and delays, causing frustration to parents, students, staff and teachers. Parents may hold up the line in the process of loading or unloading kids or a carpool. In the bus yard, kids may talk with friends rather than board immediately.

By using video cameras to monitor carpool or bus lines, administrators can identify bottlenecks or inefficiencies in the loading/unloading process and can address those issues with training or new policies.

In the cafeteria, where bottlenecks can cause hungry students to rush through their lunch, video may capture information about how students are served and lead to a decision to stagger lunches or to alter kitchen staff activities to maximize service.

For schools wishing to realize the power of video for security and other purposes, there are several proven best practices that can result in great success.

  IP Video Provides Foundation For Growth
Schools can invest in IP video cameras and video management software, as well as any necessary workstations to accommodate storage needs without straining the existing IT network. Even if budgets are limited, schools can invest in a few cameras and the software for critical areas, and add more cameras in subsequent years as more funding becomes available.

While this may not allow the campus or district to accomplish all of its goals immediately, it does establish a solid technological foundation for video, which is easily scalable.

For districts that have invested in digital video recording (DVR) technology but have determined IP video will better meet their requirements, it is possible to continue using analog cameras. Network video devices, commonly referred to as encoding modules, are able to encode the analog camera signal and connect it to the network to be used with the IP-based video management software. This approach is usually the best option for schools looking to transition their DVR systems to full, network video solutions.

For those who are using analog technology exclusively – VCR solutions – they hav
e the same option of reusing their analog cameras. For cameras that are more than five years old, however, schools should seriously consider replacement of these units with newer image-capture technology in order to ensure quality video.

The good news for these schools is that they will not have to take that “middle step” of investing in DVRs and can move directly to network video technology, if they so choose and if it is appropriate for their district.

  Schools Should Know What They Want to Achieve
Unfortunately, one of the most common mistakes among schools investing in new technology of any kind is failure to outline their objectives for the system. With no clear objectives, it is often impossible to properly select, install and use video.

For all schools, regardless of the type of existing equipment they have in place, it is critical to think through priorities of what video needs to be captured, who needs to access that video, what kinds of images need to be captured and what will ultimately be done with the video.

Consider two very different objectives a school district might have: A high school might want to monitor crowd sizes in high-traffic areas between classes to evaluate student flow and routing options; whereas an elementary school may need to capture video of people entering and exiting the building so that office staff can monitor visitors. Unless the goals are communicated, there is no guarantee the right type of solution will be installed and will adequately serve these purposes.

By having clearly stated objectives for the system and taking into consideration the environment, users, and location as part of a thorough site assessment, schools can effectively select hardware models, determine software configuration and design a deployment plan.

From the Beginning, Involve Stakeholders
It should be noted, however, that before any video system is bought or camera is positioned, campus administrators, law enforcement and IT should obtain the support of all stakeholders in the community. A multifunctional team is the best way to determine areas needed for surveillance.

Teachers, even more than administrators, know what kids are doing and the hazards they face. Getting teachers’ feedback in the process will provide invaluable insights to make sure the right video is captured. Janitors, counselors and other school employees might also provide good input.It is also necessary to think about processes and people. Administrators should ensure they have the resources in place to monitor and manage the system installed in the school. When selecting a vendor, school officials should evaluate the system’s functionality thoroughly.

It is important they are comfortable with the way the system works to make sure it is a convenient and practical solution for the users who will conduct the monitoring. If a solution is deployed but unable to be broadly used by those who need access, then the project will likely have less than desirable results.

But if a school or district takes the appropriate steps when purchasing a video system, it will have gone a long way toward adopting a solution that is not only effective and responsive, but also preventive.

  Andrew Wren is the president of Wren, a provider of comprehensive video surveillance solutions. He can be reached at

For the unabridged version of this article, please refer to the March/April 2007 issue of Campus Safety Magazine. To subscribe, go to

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