Security technology has changed rapidly in recent years, and it seems many schools have had a hard time keeping up. Let's examine some simple solutions school administrators might want to consider when reassessing their security needs.
Sensor technology has not changed much within the last decade, especially when it comes to door contacts and glass breakage detectors. Schools have learned that if they spend a few extra dollars on motion detectors, they can upgrade from a plain passive infrared (PIR) motion detector to a dual-technology motion detector, combining the PIR with a microwave sensor. Both technologies must be activated for the alarm to trigger.
In a cost-savings effort, some schools have tried to combine the motion detector with an intrusion detection device to activate the classroom lights for energy conservation and to save on sensors. There are a couple of key reasons this doesn't always prove to be a good solution. It is difficult to determine proper placement of a senor that would protect against perimeter break-ins and also control lighting, since each type of sensor would normally require very specific placement in order to function effectively. Integrating the different types of sensor technology would also hinder this dual use. Many building automation systems use a dual-technology sensor, usually combining a PIR sensor with an ultrasonic sensor. Both of these can sense hot air movement and are much more prone to false alarms. While it may not matter if a tripped sensor activates a light in the middle of the night, it is a concern if police are called and a staff member awakened to respond to a false intrusion alarm.
The complexity of today's intrusion alarm systems presents another set of problems. Many brands now provide more than 100 zones programmed into their control panels to distinguish each sensor and pinpoint a problem or false alarm source. Although the arming stations provide an English display of the system's status, some end users and installers complain that using the newer keypads is like programming a computer. These programming complexities have led to a new source of false alarms. The good news is that more manufacturers of IDS are coming out with systems that can integrate with their own or another brand of access control system, making arming and disarming the alarm system as simple as presenting your access control card.
Many K-12 schools have neither the budgets nor the support to install electronic card access control. Many are still living in a mechanical key world. Most school administrators find it increasingly difficult to manage their key control programs.
Perhaps the most prevalent practice now is to have the custodial staff open up areas for after- hours activities. But some schools want to provide a totally open facility for the public. I have had school officials tell me things like "half the town has the master key to our school," or, "this is a small community and we all know each other and trust each other." Inevitably, the key usually ends up in the wrong hands, and a major theft follows. Believe it or not, many administrators also admitted that the code to disarm the alarm system is common knowledge.
The best approach to preventing this type of problem is to replace keyed locks with an electronic access control system and issue individual cards or codes to only those that are authorized to enter after hours. This method also provides an access level for each individual. But more to the point, it records an audit trail for accountability. This provides an excellent management tool. And if the card or code is lost or stolen, it can be deleted from the system and a new one issued. On your perimeter doors, electrified locks used for controlling after-hours entry into the facility can also be used during the day for an immediate lockdown situation should it be required. Most schools now rely on administrators or custodians to walk to each and every door with a key to lock them or an Allen wrench to un-dog the panic hardware. This is not practical, and it puts these administrators in harm's way should there be an actual armed intruder.
CCTV remains the fastest-growing area of technology. Administrators who want to watch their campus day and night will find CCTV a useful tool. More school systems are moving to color surveillance cameras since they have become less expensive and are becoming more sensitive in lower light.
Video recording has also seen a giant leap in technology that is still evolving. As VCRs move toward extinction, they are being replaced by a huge array of digital video recorders. A DVR can be a single-channel direct VCR replacement model, or a multi-channel recorder to handle 16 or more camera inputs, or a network-based DVR that can record from any network connection through the Internet. Add to this formula the variety of recording speeds, resolutions and alarm features, and you end up with a matrix of thousands of choices.
Perhaps the most common question is "How many days of storage will we get?" This will vary from brand to brand depending on such features as resolution, speed, compression method and ratio, and amount of motion or other alarm methods if used. The size of the hard drive should also be an important consideration.
Beyond the hardware criteria, there are a couple of other issues to consider. One is the software. Some systems will allow you to remotely view the video with just your Internet browser while others require proprietary software that is usually only for an IBM-compatible PC. So if your school is running a Mac network, you may be out of luck. Licensing fees are another issue if you are operating over a network. Some brands don't have a fee, while others may have substantial fees. You must know all the facts before making your final selection.
One of the features I prefer on a networked system is the ability to use a wireless adaptor. This will allow your security team to view the video over their PDA while on patrol or responding to a problem on campus.
There are also a growing number of options for transmission of the video signal. In the past, most systems used coaxial cable (RG-59U). It worked well and was relatively inexpensive, but was bulky. The more conductors, the larger the size of conduit you needed, which could greatly increase the cost of installation. Fiber optics solved the cable size issue and eliminated any electrical or RF interference problems and could transmit over a much greater distance. However, it was a bit more expensive and required specialized training to install the connectors. Then came video over twisted pair (VOTP). It used a much smaller and cheaper cable, and the adapter equipment was fairly inexpensive. All of these technologies still had one common drawback, however: You still had to home run from each camera back to the control/monitoring/recording site.
IP-addressable video networks have cut down on the amount of cable required and made systems extremely flexible. Do you want to move your security office? Just unplug your recorder from the network jack, walk over to the adjoining building and plug it into a new network jack. Job done. The most difficult aspect of this scenario is determining if your existing network has the bandwidth available to add CCTV. The campus IT staff can get a bit nervous when security begins hooking up to the network. So working closely with your IT staff is critical to a successful project. If they determine that the data network does not have the room, then you can install a separate security network. It's still much cheaper than cabling home runs.
And while you're at it, you can connect IP-addressable field panels for your access control system as well. The network approach offers the greatest flexibility and lowest cost if properly designed. The growing convergence of physical and IT security technologies is becoming a reality in the campus environment.
A Combination of Solutions
While technology has provided our schools with additional eyes, ears and voices to complement our security strategies, technology is seldom considered the cure-all. Before any technology is implemented, a dedicated Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design plan should be incorporated directly into the design or remodel of the buildings. This process involves designing the building to provide its own security benefits; for instance, placing trees and shrubbery where they would deter an intruder instead of hide him, designing the entrance points so that all entrants would be directed to a pre-determined screening area, or possibly limiting the buildings on campus to allow for less outdoor movement between classes.
Beyond this, a security program needs to include a variety of solutions and, more important, a reliable staff presence. You must account for how your technology selections fit in with your existing manned guard force and the general security architecture already in place. After all, any system is only as good as the personnel interpreting and responding to the information the system provides.
Fred Zagurski, CPP, CSI, CDT has been in the security profession since 1971 and started his own consulting practice, Fred Zagurski Consultants, in 1988. He is primarily involved in the evaluation, planning and design of physical security in a campus environment. He is a board certified member of ASIS International and was formerly on the Standing Committee for Security at Educational Institutes. Mr. Zagurski is certified as a Construction Documents Technologist by the Construction Specifications Institute and has developed CSI-format specifications for several security manufacturers.