Technology Options on Campus

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. Intrusion...

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.