At most school districts, the word “security” is synonymous with “surveillance.” 

It has always been and still is the most popular security technology used in schools. In fact, school video security continues to expand faster than the overall security market.

A typical urban school district, such as Miami-Dade, can easily have thousands of cameras installed throughout its district. Some of these systems are very sophisticated, leveraging advanced surveillance capabilities and utilizing a broad range of technologies such as vandal-resistant outdoor dome cameras, outdoor pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameras, vandal-resistant PTZ IP indoor dome cameras, plus high-resolution monitors to support their continuous 24/7 operation.

Most recently, K-12 installations typically use IP/digital video. The network infrastructure is usually available and schools have fewer restrictions on bandwidth usage than corporate accounts. Administrators also find it simple to zoom-in on images, track particular scenes and enhance features with IP. From high on the rooftop of a school building, they can zoom in and get a clear image of a license plate across the parking lot. Plus, they can cover an entire campus from fewer locations. 

Cameras at K-12 schools take a pounding. However, they need to continue working. Therefore, it is highly recommended that they feature IP66 housing, able to take on all types of weather and vandalism challenges.


Where Should Cameras Be Placed?

When it comes to security at schools, as compared with higher education facilities, access controls are more defined and in place, according to Mark S. Bennett, a certified security consultant with more than 25 years of experience in the security industry. “Most schools today have clear access rules and procedures for identifying parents and visitors.”

Bennett recommends breaking down different areas and locations within facilities and applying security procedures and technologies, including security video, as specific solutions. For instance, at schools, there are threats from kidnapping, especially in the lower grades. So, surveillance along the pick-up/drop-off line is essential to providing an audit trail. Indoors, most districts mix pan-tilt-zoom cameras along with fixed-position cameras. It is highly recommended that they be encased in domes to avoid being vandalized. The pan-tilt-zooms should be placed where 360 degrees of viewing are preferred, such as the central junction of four corridors. Individual hallways use fixed-position cameras, which cost less.

Schools should also place video cameras to look at entrances as well as at main offices and where IDs are checked. Bennett points out that new school designs typically create a vestibule where doors inside are locked and cameras placed there can provide a deterrent as well as an audit trail to determine if procedures are followed. “Audio recording also can prove helpful,” he says.

Inside facilities, security video is useful along corridors where students gather, to mitigate drug and gang activities.

“The cafeteria can be a real problem and PTZ cameras placed in corners with discreet domes are a solution,” Bennett suggests. A similar approach makes sense by placing cameras outside of the entrances to restrooms. The design respects privacy but could provide information about individuals if there is an incident inside a restroom. For example, schools often find threats written on restroom walls.

According to Bennett, security video also can manage safety issues such as in the automotive, welding and shop areas, and chemistry labs.

“Security video also plays a significant role in computer labs,” he asserts. “Many facilities now have rooms filled with desktop and laptop computers and theft is a problem. There is also value in installing cameras in gymnasiums where there is the potential for fights.”

Outdoors, a typical school implementation employs high-speed, high-resolution, PTZ cameras encased in weather-resistant domes. Each camera can follow a pre-programmed guard tour, moving continuously from one pre-set position to another. Operators can zoom in on objects or areas at will.

Outdoor day/night cameras will switch automatically between a color mode for daytime and a more light-sensitive monochrome for nighttime, providing 24-hour coverage in all light conditions. These two-in-one cameras not only cut the number of cameras needed, but also the number of domes needed for the system in half. They also reduce the costs of other hardware and installation labor as well as future maintenance expenditures. By being able to produce clear images in low-light conditions, school districts save the expense of installing additional lighting.


Tying the System Together

Larger districts, those with 75-plus buildings, will want to study the feasibility of networking their entire system, either via Ethernet or fiber optics. On-site Ethernet hubs can be established in each building to create a district-wide network connected through the Internet. With fiber optics, cables can be connected from hundreds of remote sites to a central monitoring station.

Smaller districts will want to consider setting up a small-scale digital system that consists of multiple cameras, a multiplexer (that controls viewing and recording), and several monitors and recorders in each building. Such a system is relatively inexpensive. It can be duplicated in all buildings, allowing standardized training and eliminating any problems with compatibility.


Caveat Emptor

The system must be implemented by an installer with considerable experience in school security, using good design practices. Otherwise, there will be myriad call-backs.  Schools need an integrator that can help them with pre- and post-sales support, troubleshooting, integration assistance, on-site training, firmware updates and system design to service/repair/replacement coordination.