Surveillance | Feature

Making the Transition to IP-Based Video Surveillance

A hands-on approach to project management has helped one Missouri school district move its campus monitoring from a purely analog, proprietary CCTV system to a centrally managed IP-based system consisting of 480 individual digital cameras.

Melissa Tebbenkamp, director of instructional technology, and Darren Nixon, assistant director of technology operations for Raytown Quality Schools
Melissa Tebbenkamp, director of instructional technology, and Darren Nixon, assistant director of technology operations for Raytown Quality Schools

It would be an understatement to say that Melissa Tebbenkamp, director of technology for Raytown Quality Schools in the Kansas City suburb of Raytown, was unimpressed with the district's previous security video system.

When its 56 analog cameras were installed close to 10 years ago, the main goal had been to cut down on tire thefts from teachers' cars. "They only monitored parking lots and they never caught anyone," she said. The proprietary CCTV system was also prone to breakdowns. "There were so many points of failure and the system was difficult to troubleshoot," Tebbenkamp added. "It would be easier to tell you the short list of things the system could do rather than the long list of things it couldn't."

But today Raytown deploys a sophisticated digital video management system (VMS) monitoring 480 IP cameras that is providing much wider interior and exterior coverage and helping with crisis response. In the two-year transition process, Tebbenkamp learned a lot more about security systems than she ever thought she would. But, she said, she was determined not to outsource the $1.3 million project. Her team kept the RFP process, project management and vendor coordination in-house.

"Some districts turn it over to a systems integrator, but I am not that type of person," Tebbenkamp said. "One of our goals was to be as hands-on as possible."

In 2008 Raytown, which has 22 campuses, 9,000 students, and 1,400 staff members, started planning for the transition.

The project team created a six-tier proposal for the school board and administrators to consider. Each tier increased the cost and scope of the project. Tier 1 was fixing the analog system they already had, while tier 6 was blanket coverage with new IP cameras and would cost $3 million. They settled on tier 5, which both upgraded the technology and vastly expanded coverage.

With the help of a $300,000 federal COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) grant, the district's technology team began investigating IP-based solution options.
Vendors could bid on the entire project or individual components.  "We mandated a pre-bid site tour," Tebbenkamp recalled. "Every player understood the whole project from end to end. I don't want the storage provider to sell me storage without knowing the scope of the project. And we required the camera supplier to do the installation."

The RFP required a bid bond and performance bond and contained language about penalties for missed deadlines.

"A bid bond sounds routine," she said, "but some people miss it"

Raytown eventually chose to work with five vendors:

Like many other districts, Raytown is most concerned with scalability. (It already has plans to add 30 to 40 more cameras in the near future.) With the previous generation of analog systems, adding new cameras would involve a potentially expensive cabling project to power them. Now cameras can easily be added to an IP network using power over Ethernet (PoE), meaning cameras can be installed in locations without a readily available power outlet.

In the planning stages, Tebbenkamp's team asked vendors to describe how their systems would integrate with the other vendors Raytown was considering. "Poor answers to those questions shot down some of the vendors as possibilities," she added.

Open hardware and software standards were important to the implementation team. For instance, they ultimately chose Panasonic megapixel cameras but want flexibility going forward. "We chose Panasonic," Tebbankamp said, but if we want to add Sony cameras later, we can do it and to the video management system there is no difference."

The VMS they ultimately chose, Genetec's Omnicast Enterprise software, has drivers for hundreds of camera types. The system also offers integration with the Genetec building access control system Raytown uses and the ability to centrally monitor network video recorders (NVRs) located throughout the system.

Another high priority was ease of use for end users. "We have to have building administrators able to pull and bookmark their own live and archived video," she said.

Raytown administrators attended training sessions before they ever touched the system, and Omnicast allows the technology team to set permissions for which cameras administrators have rights to view and which tools they can use.

When transmitting video on an IP network, bandwidth constraints can be an issue, but Tebbankamp said that wasn't a concern for Raytown. "Our district has a hefty network with a 10 gigabit backbone to our two main buildings, so we have a very big pipe and don't really have bandwidth issues," she said. But other school districts might have more limitations and would have to pay more attention to file compression rates and variable bit rates to lessen the impact. "If a school district has lots of locations, the killer is backhauling the data to monitor it from a central location," said Ron Walczak, principal consultant with Walczak Technology Consultants in Prospect, PA. In that situation schools tend to have storage at each location with access to that storage from the central hub, he explained. "Then you choose which hot spots you want to monitor and look at those 10 crucial camera views out of the 200 total to come across the wide-area network."

Another consideration is storing large video files, and the cost will vary depending on the district's policy on how long to retain the data. Raytown stores its video for only 10 days, but even that required upgrading to 40 TB of storage capacity. Organizations typically store video data on storage area networks (SANs) they already use for other purposes. Others set up SANs dedicated to storing video images.

Tebbenkamp also said she realized she had to budget for ongoing costs of annual maintenance and equipment additions and rotation. She said she budgeted on the high side: $15,000 annually for maintenance and $60,000 a year for additional cameras. The new Raytown system went live in October 2010 and already it has helped locate a missing student and provided police with much more evidence to pursue cases of vandalism. The megapixel cameras can provide enough detail to actually identify perpetrators, she noted. "Our administrators are finding it so useful," she said, "that once they get a taste of it, they want more."

While the tech team works on additions to the system, including wireless network connections to cameras on school athletic fields, Tebbenkamp said the project is on track and on budget. She admitted, however, that the initial research took more time than she thought it would. "We really did our due diligence," she said. "On the project management side, we would definitely do it ourselves again, but it did take more of our internal resources than we initially thought."