Surveillance 101

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Leveraging Network Video to Enhance School Security, Student Learning and Teacher Standards

Despite lessons learned from the Columbine High School tragedy, we continue to see incidents of school violence escalate. According to the National School Safety and Security Services, the 2003-04 school year saw 44 school-related violent deaths, plus an additional 64 school-related shootings that did not end in death — making last school year the most violent since the 1998-99 school year.

In response to this growing trend, an increasing number of schools nationwide are implementing video surveillance systems in an effort to improve student and faculty safety. The United States currently has about 100,000 schools, and only 16% of these facilities have some form of video surveillance system in place. While this figure demonstrates that schools are making progress toward the goal of improving their safety measures, more than 90% of these schools use analog, or closed-circuit television (CCTV), surveillance systems. Although useful for basic surveillance applications, CCTV systems fall short of offering the benefits of the more modern surveillance systems available today, which deliver enhancements such as remote access and video management.

Internet protocol (IP)-based systems are quickly emerging as a surveillance option that offers marked benefits over CCTV systems, as well as can contribute to increased security and safety across campuses. Today, only 5% to 10% of schools with a surveillance system use IP-based systems. However, as the cost of the technology decreases, and the functionality and ease of installation increases, schools are rapidly migrating to IP-based systems.

This article will present an overview of IP-based surveillance, giving schools a basic lesson in the way that the systems work with existing infrastructure investments and showing the overall benefits received from these systems. I will also highlight a case study of how a high school in is using video surveillance technology to improve teaching standards, student learning and security.

Building Blocks of Security

The foundation of an IP-based surveillance system is the camera. In the IP realm, surveillance cameras are known as network cameras because they connect directly to a computer network. Network cameras operate independently of PCs because they contain built-in image digitalization and compression, an operating system, and Web servers. This allows images to be sent over a school's local area network (LAN) or via the Web, enabling images to be viewed from any PC connected to the Internet.

Since network cameras plug directly into the existing data network via an Ethernet port, schools can save thousands of dollars by not having to wire their buildings with coaxial cabling as required with an analog camera installation. Instead, schools can leverage the existing network infrastructure that most of them currently have in place. IP-based systems also are highly scalable, allowing schools to easily add more cameras to upgrade the system's scope and breadth of coverage.

Many schools already have a network of CCTV cameras in place. Therefore, network video servers offer schools a low-cost, uncomplicated solution for converting to IP-based surveillance systems from analog. Video servers connect directly to a school's network and digitize images from analog cameras for transmission via the intranet or Internet. This enables schools to receive all the benefits of an IP-based system without investing in new network cameras.

Creating a Safer Environment

IP-based systems provide functionalities and benefits not possible with CCTV-based systems, such as remote monitoring capabilities. Schools typically place their network cameras in public areas where violence is more likely to occur such as hallways, cafeterias and school grounds. Because authorized users can view images from any Internet browser, school officials, IT staff, security guards and even police officers can log on and view video as needed. Images can be viewed and managed from one centralized location or several disparate locations, depending on the needs of the school. This capability can be extremely valuable when an incident occurs, because school officials can immediately pull up the video on their computer and watch the incident as it takes place.

Many districts also have installations in multiple schools. To maximize control over their installations, districts may set up a monitoring center in one centralized location — either on school grounds or in a remote location such as a district administration building. This option is cost-effective and creates efficiency by enabling all authorized users to view video from every camera simultaneously. It also makes it possible to quickly identify and respond to issues as they arise.

Schools also benefit from motion-detection applications available with IP-based systems. Most network cameras contain built-in motion-detection capabilities that will trigger video recording if movement or an "event" occurs. A school's system can be set to notify someone if an event occurs by sending messages to a wireless device. For example, if a trophy closet is broken into after hours, alerts can be sent instantly to a designated principal's or superintendent's cell phone.

Parents and teachers alike agree that creating a safe environment where students can focus on learning is the ultimate goal of any technology system a school installs. According to one Canton High School senior, IP-based surveillance helped achieve this goal: "Now you can't get into a fight and say that you weren't in it because the cameras saw you there. It's better that they have the cameras — I personally feel safer [at school]."


Canton High School Looks Beyond Security

While IP-based surveillance is primarily being used to assist with security measures in facilities, some schools are finding new and broader ways to leverage their technology investments with creative applications. One school that is maximizing its surveillance investment is Canton High School in Canton, Miss. Canton High School uses network video servers to convert its 60 analog cameras into network cameras. The high school originally installed its system to create a safer, more productive environment for students and teachers by deterring theft, fights, bullying and vandalism.

After an initial installation around school grounds, Canton High School experienced such a drastic improvement in security that the school district decided to expand the system into each classroom. Today, Canton High School's IP-based system enables it to record video and audio from every classroom to a hard drive. After class, students can access and review recorded classes via the school's network. In addition, the system records the teaching techniques of the school's best-performing teachers, and the video is later used in teacher training sessions.

This article originally appeared in the 08/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.

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