A Passing Grade for Digital Surveillance

March 1, 2007
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Newcomerstown School District in Newcomerstown, Ohio began reevaluating their ability to prevent violence and how to effectively manage it in the event a violent act occurs. Their existing security system received a failing grade, and led to a security system upgrade.

Past generations have looked upon America’s schools as a place for learning, growth and personal development as well as a safe-haven. Schools were not only a location for class time, but as a safe and effective social center for attending children. However, in recent times America’s schools have increasingly become violence targets rather than educational and social institutions.

From gang violence to terrorist threats and school shootings, school districts as well as local and federal agencies are scrambling to find ways to not only make schools more secure, but also to develop emergency procedures. The integration of metal detectors, lock-down procedures, clothing restrictions and weapons bans are only a few of the latest policies directed towards violence protection. The unfortunate reality is that America’s schools are now a vulnerable target for those with the desire to do harm.

The potential for violence escalates year after year, especially following a trend of high-profile school shootings. It seems as if no school or district can be immune to potential violence, as shown by the recent murder of five students at a small one-room Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pa. The Columbine Massacre, as well as the recent Bailey, Colo. standoffs are also prime examples of how much of a disadvantage authorities can be in when assessing a threat virtually blind to the location and activities of the suspect or suspects inside.

While many schools in recent years have equipped their campuses with security video surveillance systems, these solutions are only effective when piecing together a crime after the fact. How can administration and authorities take advantage of real-time surveillance of an event without needing direct access to the surveillance system? The answer today is digital surveillance.

Based upon the recent school violence and increased threats to schools, Newcomerstown School District in Newcomerstown, Ohio began reevaluating their ability to prevent violence and how to effectively manage it if a violent act occurs. Their previous conventional tape surveillance system came up short in many ways, including the inability to monitor surveillance from an outside location.
 

SWITCHING TO DIGITAL

Digital surveillance is a tape-free system with the ability to record events to a hard disk rather than a VHS or tape and reel system. Digital surveillance can be achieved through a PC-based system, or as a standalone recording device. Surveillance can be monitored, played back and searched based upon virtually any desired user setting. Some digital surveillance solutions even provide the ability to access live video from anywhere an Internet connection is available.

Shawn Dakin is the assistant director of technology for Newcomerstown Schools. “I am responsible for all networking and data systems in the school district. Although not directly responsible for security, I felt that my department could find a cost effective solution for our video surveillance,” Dakin said.

“Prior to our upgrade we were running a…Video Cassette Recorder for our video archiving. This system was cumbersome to use and playback quality was marginal at best. In the past, we had a difficult time retrieving video in a timely fashion. When an incident happened that required disciplinary action, our administration found it frustrating to use the system to view video of the infraction,” Dakin said. 

Randy Addy, Newcomerstown high school principal and director of buildings and grounds, mentioned interest in purchasing some type of digital video surveillance and archiving system, but was concerned about the cost. “Several vendors had approached Mr. Addy with canned solutions that cost thousands of dollars, which was far beyond the price we could reasonably afford,” Dakin said.

As with most schools, Newcomerstown had a limited budget, yet required a highly functional and easy to use solution. “For a system to be approved, it had to demonstrate that it could be easily accessed by the principal, assistant principal, secretaries and local law enforcement and provide video playback that was “useful” in the investigation of disciplinary actions,” Addy said. “As a “poor Appalachian” school in southeastern Ohio, we have to make every penny count.”
 

FOUR REQUIREMENTS

With the first implementation to cover their high school, Newcomerstown developed four specific requirements for their new surveillance system. First, the solution had to be cost effective. It was determined that a PC-based solution that could integrate into their existing PC systems would be not only cost effective, but would require less user training. Second, the system needed the ability to record and store digital video to eliminate the need to keep physical tapes of surveillance events. Third, the solution needed multiple, yet different levels of security access where users with a defined security rating could access and use part or all of the system. Fourth, the system needed to have remote monitoring capabilities through an Internet browser. The system was approved because it was well within budget, provided easy local and remote access, and was from a reputable vendor.

Thankfully, Newcomerstown School District has not been involved in any significant violent or criminal events, however, the need to be prepared for potential threats is more urgent than ever. Preparation and worst case scenario foresight is becoming an unfortunate, yet necessary, responsibility America’s schools are facing.
 

SIDEBAR: The System Specs

Among other solutions, Newcomerstown evaluated the AVerMedia NV5000 Hybrid PC-Based Surveillance DVR solution. The NV5000 Series HYBRID Surveillance Platform features a comprehensive, yet user-friendly Windows-based digital surveillance recording (DVR) solution. The system features remote recording & monitoring, digital video archiving, password protection, audio and video recording synchronization and more. Expandable from four to 16 cameras, the NV5000 not only satisfied Newcomerstown’s needs, but also offered additional features and functions to accommodate future system expansions.

“I suggested we look into a PC based system that we could assemble on our own. We had a spare PC that could be used for the project with minimal upgrade; so I went about researching video surveillance capture cards that also included software for archiving and retrieving the video,” said Shawn Dakin, assistant director of technology for Newcomerstown Schools. “AVerMedia was not the first vendor I worked with, but the initial card I tried was unstable and difficult to configure. After doing a little more research I discovered the NV line of cards from AVerMedia. We contacted a sales representative who answered some questions regarding what model would best fit our needs. In the end we purchased and installed an AVerMedia NV5000 with three expansion cards.”
 

 

The hybrid aspect allows for the integration of both analog and IP cameras, able to integrate with the current analog camera configuration, but allowing for additional IP cameras to be integrated without additional cabling. The available Central Management Software enables multiple systems/DVRs (up to 1000) to be connected and managed from a single location. This will be extremely beneficial as the district expands its surveillance system to the other schools.

The NV5000 system not only allows staff and administration to monitor the school in real-time, but events can be easily recorded, searched and played back based on a variety of parameters. The remote accessibility allows anyone with the appropriate security level to access live and recorded surveillance anywhere an Internet browser or web enabled PDA is available. The local police department has also been given remote access in the event a surveillance event does occur. This gives law enforcement the ability to view activities inside the school as they are happening, reducing guesswork and better preparing them for any necessary action.

“The NV5000 system enabled us to integrate a comprehensive, yet cost effective surveillance monitoring solution allowing Newcomerstown to provide our students and staff with appropriate security,” said Dakin. “Real-time and accurate surveillance with remote access is an integral part of our overall security plan.”

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