CCTV Basics for Schools

July 1, 2004
Effective school security starts with a plan.

To establish the “basis of design” for a CCTV project, education institutions need to understand that a closed-circuit television (CCTV) system is only a tactic. A surveillance system by itself will not provide a security solution. Understanding a school's security objectives is critical when designing an installation. The “why” as it relates to camera placement is directly related to the security philosophy and dictates the design.

Proper purpose

Schools should install cameras with a specific purpose in mind. A camera cannot perform as intended if it is placed incorrectly, or if it is trying to perform too many tasks. Depending on the environment, it may not be reasonable to expect 100 percent coverage of a school.

A camera is only part of a surveillance system. It also includes video switching, video monitoring and video recording. Knowledge of how administrators or security officers will operate the system will allow a designer to choose the best locations for cameras. Cameras can help protect a building's exterior; monitor building entrances from the exterior or the interior; monitor high-traffic areas; monitor areas of high sensitivity; provide convenience with single-point monitoring; and enhance personnel safety.

What are you looking for?

Administrators might want to install a camera outside a building to monitor the campus for vandalism, break-ins, loitering or other unwanted activities. When placing cameras outside, schools need to consider additional factors.

Camera housings need to be sealed to minimize moisture condensation on the housing lens or camera itself. If a camera is not sealed, a blower may be installed to circulate air and eliminate condensate. Camera housings may need to be heated for cameras to operate correctly. There also are operating limits regarding camera cabling distance and operating temperature that administrators need to consider.

School entrances may be monitored from either the exterior or the interior. Schools should not use a single camera for both purposes. From the exterior, security officers might want to monitor traffic from visitors, service personnel and deliveries. From the interior, they might want to monitor unauthorized entry or visitors that fail to report to the office. The system could create a historical record of all people entering for reference later. Surveillance tapes may be compared with a video archive of past troublemakers.

Inside the building, administrators might need to monitor high-traffic areas or other trouble spots for problems such as thefts, violence or victimization, vandalism or traffic congestion. Of particular concern would be areas of high sensitivity or risk, such as drug storage in a nurse's office, locker rooms, administrative records, computer equipment or sports equipment storage.

Cameras may be used less for risk monitoring and more for convenience. If security can monitor multiple locations from a single observation point, it saves time traveling between places. Examples include gymnasiums, daycares, parking lots and corridors.

Recording CCTV images is extremely important when a school needs to investigate an incident. A security officer is unlikely to witness an event live on a monitor, especially as a campus installs more and more cameras. Therefore, the quality and quantity of recorded images will allow security to investigate more effectively.

After administrators decide on the design of a camera system, they should review the placement of each camera to make sure it complies with the school's security goals.


Percentage of public schools with various types of crime: 1999-2000.

  • 71

    Percentage of public schools that experienced one or more violent incidents.

  • 20

    Percentage of public schools that experienced one or more serious violent incidents such as rape, sexual battery, physical attack, fight with a weapon, etc.

  • 46

    Percentage of public schools that experienced one or more thefts.

  • 73

    Percentage of public schools that experienced other types of crime.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), 1999-2000.

Lupinacci, RCDD/LAN specialist, is a project consultant for G. R. Sponaugle Communication Company, LLC, a Harrisburg, Pa.-based multi-service communications company that provides voice, data, video and security solutions.

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