Calif. Schools Adopt Aiphone Video, Audio Systems

Congregation Beth Jacob is hoping the surveillance and emergency communication systems improve emergency preparedness.

Facility security has always been a priority at Congregation Beth Jacob in Redwood City, Calif., especially for their preschool and religious school. In the spring of 2013, Congregation Beth Jacob’s Board of Directors hired HighCom Security Services, an Oakland, Calif.-based integrator, to install a facility-wide camera system. HighCom installed 12 Digital Watchdog surveillance cameras (four PTZ and eight fixed). Cameras are used to monitor the parking lot, school egress and views of the street fronting the facility. The Congregation staff is able to view live video from monitors in the facility’s main and school offices

After the cameras were installed, the board decided to take additional steps to improve security by hardening the perimeter, as well as improving emergency communications and procedures.

The board asked HighCom for their advice and help. Rody Rosenbaum, director of HighCom’s security systems division, worked on a solution to let the congregation lock all doors, manage visitors and improve communications. The plan was largely based on video and audio intercoms from Bellevue, Wash.-based Aiphone Corp.

“The congregation wanted to be prepared for emergencies ranging from a student medical problem to an active shooter,” Rosenbaum said.

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The project was completed in 2015. Fences and gates now guide visitors to a rear parking lot and a common double-door entry to the main facility. An Aiphone IS Series video intercom is mounted just outside the main entry, which is now kept locked along with other exterior entries.

“Congregation staff members have been given codes they can enter into a keypad to access,” Rosenbaum said. “Visitors, vendors and parents push a button on the video intercom to gain the attention of office staff.”

Four Aiphone master stations are located on the desks of the congregation’s executive director and receptionist, as well as one in each of the common areas of the main and school offices. Each station includes a 3.5-inch color LCD monitor and handset allowing office personnel to see and speak with visitors. Once a visitor is approved for entry, a station button remotely unlocks the doors.

Audio intercoms were also installed to link classrooms to congregation and school offices.

“Before we finished this project, teachers needing assistance had to leave the classroom and walk to the office,” Rosenbaum said.

An Aiphone wall-mount handset was installed in each of the 12 classrooms which teachers can use hands-free. CAT-5e cable links each unit to the master station, which also powers the audio intercom system. Also, each classroom – and the social hall and kitchen – have panic buttons installed. Pushing a button generates a pre-recorded message shared throughout the facility. That message contains a code phrase intended to generate an immediate lockdown without overly frightening the students. Rosenbaum said the buttons were placed under a clear plastic cover similar to those covering fire pulls so they couldn’t be accidentally pushed.

HighCom ran into a tricky problem during system installation. Existing conduits between the main office and the school were nearly full with cable for the cameras and other IT connections, leaving no room for cables from each classroom to the intercom’s central control unit (CCU) near the main office. Tearing out ceilings and walls to run new conduits would have added costs and delays.

Rosenbaum said HighCom worked around the problem by running the classroom cables to a room station control unit located in the school. From there, only one cable was needed to connect to the CCU. That enabled the project to stay within budget and be completed within 15 days, including training of staff.

Also, Aiphone speakers and horns were added to share emergency messages throughout the property. Two speakers and seven horns were installed in the school play area, two patios, front entry, sanctuary, social hall and main lobby.

Eric Stone, Congregation Beth Jacob’s executive director at the time, said the new system achieved the goals set by the Board of Directors.

“Teachers, parents and congregation members have all responded very favorably to the new system and entry procedures,” he said. “The mere existence of the system increases the sense of security and well being. It is very easy for people to understand the system and to grasp its importance without raising unnecessary fear.”

Stone said since its installation, the door entry system is used daily, but the emergency features have been employed only during training and drills.

Previously, those monthly drills required a congregation staff member to walk door-to-door to get classroom participation. The intercom system now allows simultaneous announcements.

Greg Sterling, the congregation’s former president who still maintains responsibility for facility buildings and grounds, said the added video and audio intercoms have provided the tools and related procedures for responding to an emergency. In addition, the investments made security a high priority and integral part of the congregation’s day-to-day tasks.

“Emergency communications and procedures are now imbedded in our daily operations,” he said.

John Mosebar serves as vice president of marketing for Aiphone Corp. He is a 32-year veteran of the company, a manufacturer of security video intercoms.

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