School violence takes many forms. It encompasses gang activity, vandalism, thefts, bullying, gun use, sexual assault—just about anything that results in a victim. For that reason, administrators are incorporating a variety of innovative security strategies to create a safer learning environment when constructing new schools, especially for junior highs.
According to the Department of Education, younger students, ages twelve through fourteen, were more likely than older students, ages fifteen through eighteen, to be victims of crime at school. Almost one in five students reported being threatened with a beating, and again this was a more common experience for middle school students (22 percent) than for high school students (16 percent). The typical victim of an attack or robbery at school is a male in the seventh grade who is assaulted by a boy his own age.
These were issues that weighed on the minds of administrators designing the new Thomson-McDuffie Junior High School, located in east Georgia between Atlanta and Augusta. Built at a cost of $17.5 million, the new 140,000 square foot facility opened its doors in August 2008 to more than 600 students who are kept safe and secure with the help of an IP networked surveillance system from Toshiba.
Dr. Steve Rhodes, principal, Thomson-McDuffie Junior High School, takes pride in the technology: “The technological aspects of the school are beyond what we’ve seen in the state of Georgia. Each of our classrooms will have a DVD projector in the ceiling. All will have slate writers. Our teachers will have the opportunity to use various aspects of technology. And then lastly, the safety part of the school is something we’re certainly proud of. Everyone who has been through the building has just been blown away by the facility being so large… all of the wonderful technology and safety features that we offer.”
Chad Umbarger, business development manager for security in the Atlanta District, and Cindy Howland of Graybar Electric in Augusta, Ga., met with school officials to discuss their needs in early 2007. After careful consideration, they recommended a hybrid analog/digital solution that had proven itself in other school installations.
“McDuffie County School Board members sought to leverage the CAT5e cabling being run in the school not just for their computer network, but for the video surveillance system; however, a full IP system was cost prohibitive,” explained Umbarger. “We recommended a more affordable hybrid approach that networked analog cameras with several digital video recorders. Besides saving money, it essentially future-proofed the building if the administration chose to add IP cameras later down the line.”
Augusta Telephone, a Graybar contractor who also put in Thomson-McDuffie Junior High School’s telecommunications system, handled the physical installation of the surveillance network. As a result of their hard work and Graybar’s planning, the school began monitoring the building within minutes after the installation.
COST-EFFECTIVE HYBRIDEstablishing a tight safety net around the students, a total of seventy-two cameras are mounted in school hallways, at entry and exit points, and in the gymnasium. Outside, three vandal-proof Toshiba day-night dome cameras are positioned within the bus stop located in front of the school to provide coverage of the grounds and parking lot. Another four are mounted inside the gym where their vandal-proof engineering keeps the cameras from being damaged by basketballs or other sports equipment.
Along with the inside cameras, several wide dynamic range cameras were installed on the school’s exterior walls to monitor parking lines. With its 133X dynamic range, the cameras let administrators view subjects in extreme backlight situations, capturing both very dark and very light images within the same frame.
However, it is the dome cameras that do the bulk of the surveillance work at Thomson-McDuffie Junior High School, providing a host of technical advantages including 3 axis adjustable 350° pan and 146° tilt, 520 TV lines of resolution, a tamper-resistant cover, and a clean 50dB signal-to-noise ratio for digital recording. More than 60 of these cameras are installed throughout the school’s hallways and at entrance doors. To preserve privacy, no cameras are placed in school bathrooms, locker rooms, or within classrooms.
ANALOG TO DIGITALAltronix Hub-Way VPD Combiners were installed with the cameras to transmit video and power over the CAT5e. Images are digitized in MJPEG format and archived at up to 120 PPS per camera on five 16-channel digital video recorders. The rack-mounted DVRs are kept in five separate data closets located throughout the school. Forward-thinking Graybar engineers kept the distances between the closets and the cameras to within the 100 meters required for future adds of IP cameras.
Thanks to the DVR’s networking capabilities, authorized staff now simply login to their computers to view live images. They can then make a judgment as to whether action is required. Additionally, a centralized visual checkpoint was devised in the intersection where the school’s six hallways meet. There, a large color monitor is mounted to allow staff to watch all hallways simultaneously simply by standing in one spot. Finally, the school provided network IP addresses to the Thompson Police Department so that in the event of an emergency, live camera images can be accessed via the school’s wireless infrastructure to officers within 150 feet.
“The goal of the project was to successfully support the safety and security of students and staff, plus leave the door open for easy expansion and growth,” noted Umbarger. “Everyone on the team worked to ensure that the system meets present security standards and anticipated future needs without disrupting the educational process.”
Thomson-McDuffie Junior High School is now an example of how technology improves both education and safety. Following its opening, police officers and representatives from other schools have visited it to find out more about how they can deploy similar approaches to fight against school crime and vandalism.
“We think it’s going to be a model school in Georgia. We think that we’re going to have a lot of visitors to come to our school and see what it is that we’re doing differently,” noted Dr. Mark Peterson, McDuffie County School Superintendent.