An Eye on Safety

Feb. 1, 2008
Security surveillance can provide many benefits for schools.

One of the principal responsibilities of any school or university is to provide a safe and secure environment where students can further their intellectual growth. Likewise, the faculty and other staff whose work is essential to day-to-day operations should be able to focus entirely on their duties rather than their safety. The violent incidents at our nation's schools and universities over the last decade have driven home an ugly reality. Schools now must secure their facilities and campuses against not only external dangers, but also those found from within. These dangers require security strategies that are innovative, sensible and affordable.

Today, digital video recording (DVR) technology has revolutionized the security and surveillance field, and expanded the options available to education institutions. VCRs with videocassettes once were the standard, but they required a lot of maintenance and delivered unstable results. The grainy, black-and-white pictures produced by obtrusive cameras and multiplexed VHS recording are being replaced with high-resolution digital surveillance systems.

Fed by discreet cameras, the crystal-clear footage recorded on a digital system enables school security personnel to observe even the most inconspicuous details — such as a small object changing hands between two students. With strategic placement of cameras, schools and univerisities can observe individuals continuously as they make their way around campus.

Commensurate with advances in recording is the progress in camera technology. Digital security cameras typically include such high-tech capabilities as infrared recording with day and night settings, pan tilt and zoom (PTZ) positioning, and vandal-resistant domes. In addition, digital recording now is performed on computer disc drives capable of storing data for many years.

Software-based solution

Many digital security systems are available. One cost-effective network video recorder (NVR) solution is Internet protocol (IP). An NVR runs on a standard PC or network server and records video from one or more network cameras or analog cameras. These systems can be integrated into any existing IP data network. Given the prevalence of the Internet, most schools already will have such networks in place.

NVR software applications connect to digital network closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras that work with local area network (LAN) cables, which already should be installed in places with high-speed Internet access.

Security personnel can view live feeds from these cameras or review stored footage from any computer with access to the server. NVR software even can work with existing analog cameras when used with a video encoder.

Why Windows?

Windows-based operating systems have many advantages over embedded operating systems. They are ubiquitous in business and can integrate with other Windows software. These systems offer sophisticated feature functionality and provide a variety of remote access benefits.

The data itself can be stored on the hard drive of an existing network server. In some cases, it is necessary to expand the hard drive's storage capacity. Some schools and universities may decide to acquire “advanced searching” software, which enables security personnel to quickly review saved images. This can be critical when going through hundreds of hours of recordings.

Other features can benefit campus security: simultaneous recording, playback and live viewing options; data storage both locally and at a remote location; centralized management of multiple systems; motion detection and other event-activated recordings; event alerting via e-mail or SMS/text messaging; and simple integration with network, digital and analog cameras that already may be in place.

The right shots

Purchasing the right cameras is integral to a system's effectiveness. Failing to upgrade cameras — especially if a system is analog rather than digital — often is pennywise but pound-foolish. Outdated cameras may compromise the quality of the footage. If grainy analog footage is all that is available to the authorities investigating an incident, their efforts to determine what happened may be thwarted.

Ideal network cameras require a frames per second (FPS) capacity of no less than 30 FPS per camera for recorded data. Speed criteria also apply to live viewing. With a 16-camera system as the benchmark, the most efficient live viewing occurs with 480 frames per second.

CCTV is optimal for security personnel. It provides the capacity to monitor and track activity throughout an institution with flexibility and ease of use — and in real time. Modern systems can handle limitless numbers of cameras, delivering live and archived video feeds up to 30 frames per second, per camera.

A CCTV station also provides 24/7 video-analytics technology to detect stationary and mobile objects across multiple school buildings. It is an intelligent system that tracks and responds to events in real time and helps mitigate security risks.

Placing cameras in strategic areas may be as important as the type of equipment that is used. A system works only as well as the locations it covers. The first lines of defense for security surveillance include entrances and exits. In addition, external security cameras should include dropoff and pickup areas, rooftops and parking lots.

Beyond the egresses and their surrounding areas, cameras should be placed wherever students gather, such as hallways, stairways, gymnasiums, cafeterias and libraries. Rooms in which theft may occur, such as computer/IT rooms and sports equipment rooms, also should be monitored.

Exploring the benefits

Security surveillance provides numerous benefits. Cameras help deter fights and attacks, and when violent acts do occur, they are more likely to be stopped quickly. Students who know they are being monitored may decide to avoid illegal behavior, such as smoking, drinking alcohol or drug use.

Video recordings provide schools with documentary evidence that can mitigate the risk of fraudulent liability lawsuits. School faculty and administrators can focus on education, rather than security.

Some argue that surveillance cameras infringe on the privacy of students and staff. Schools are encouraged to place cameras primarily in common areas to minimize the sense of intrusion.

Ecker is president and CEO of Peace of Mind Technologies, LLC, a New York City-based security technology company specializing in educational facilities, as well as other vertical markets.

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