Strategies for Success: Security/Life Safety

Many schools and universities have relied for years on some degree of video surveillance to bolster security on their campuses. But, today, surveillance cameras aren't novelties reserved for the most troublesome parts of school facilities and grounds. With the advance of technology, schools can have more cameras covering more parts of their campuses delivering better pictures.

Because so many schools have used E-rate subsidies from the federal government to install computer networks that bring Internet access to classrooms, administrators upgrading their facilities' security systems can use the existing bandwidth to deploy a whole army of cameras to cover virtually every spot on a campus, without breaking their budgets.

Because the networks can accommodate so many cameras, school officials no longer have to make tough decisions about which areas of campus need cameras the most — they can put them everywhere.

Before going down that road, school officials should determine what level of surveillance would best fit in with their communities. With video or still cameras commonplace in businesses, at traffic intersections and on cellular phones, many people have become resigned to the fact that their activities may be recorded, but schools still should be aware that some students or parents may feel ubiquitous video surveillance is an invasion of privacy.

The Biloxi, Miss., school district gained attention a few years ago when it became one of the first school systems in the nation to install cameras in each of its classrooms (more than 500 in all). Now, that seems like small potatoes in places such as the DeKalb County, Ga., district. It has installed 3,500 surveillance cameras at 140 district facilities.

With an Internet Protocol (IP) video surveillance system, schools do not have to bear the expense of outfitting their facilities with the coaxial cable needed to run an analog closed-circuit camera system.

Schools' technology networks are able to accommodate not only video surveillance systems, but also other security components, such as access control, and fire and intrusion alarms. In addition, other amenities, such as bell systems, phones and intercoms, can run on the school network.

The cameras can record and archive activities digitally, freeing schools from the burden of storing bulky videotapes. Because the system is linked to the school computer network and the Internet, administrators and local law-enforcement officers don't have to be in their offices to monitor video feeds. They can view surveillance video from any computer connected to the web. When security personnel need to review surveillance video, the system can retrieve it almost immediately.

When choosing cameras, school officials need to decide whether they want the units to be visible so that would-be troublemakers are deterred, or obscured, in the event they want to surreptitiously nab an unsuspecting wrongdoer.

NOTABLE

19.4

Percentage of schools that used one or more security cameras to monitor their facilities, 1999.

38.5

Percentage of students 12 to 18 years old attending schools that used one or more security cameras, 2001.

47.9

Percentage of students 12 to 18 years old attending schools that used one or more security cameras, 2003.

Source: National Center for Education Statistics, “Indicators of School Crime and Safety, 2005”

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