Schools Require Distinct Solutions

Reported incidents of violence, theft, vandalism and drugs on public school campuses nationwide are an all-too-familiar story. According to the federal government's "Indicators of School Crime and Safety 2003" report, 71 percent of K-12 public schools...

Similarly, school officials note that the cameras help keep kids out of mischief, since students are aware of their presence and will think twice before starting trouble under the camera's view. Most schools are using the cameras to monitor hallways, cafeterias and gyms as well as hidden areas that are attracting problem behaviors.

The recording of surveillance cameras can be accomplished using either VCRs or digital video recorders. Many schools have VCR-based systems, since they purchased them several years ago. However, as DVR prices have come down, some schools are looking to convert to DVRs or are buying DVRs from the outset due to their many advantages. These include faster image retrieval (DVRs cut research time drastically due to the ability to search by time, date or second), better image quality and increased storage capability (digital video can be stored for long periods and frequently accessed without any of the image deterioration common to videotape). Also, and perhaps most important, DVRs open up remote monitoring capabilities that allow schools to share video with local law enforcement personnel via e-mail or the Internet.

Metal Detectors
Metal detectors draw mixed reviews from school administrators. First, there are usually many entry points to a school, and posting metal detectors at all entry points may not be financially feasible. Second, using the equipment slows down students' entrance and may require staggering students' arrival time. Third, the equipment cannot operate on its own and must be monitored by security personnel.

Some districts, however, are not discouraged by these issues and view the metal detectors as a good investment. Some schools use a free-standing metal-detection portal, which students walk through upon entering the school grounds. Others opt for metal detection wands.

Choosing the Right Technology
Because of their status as public entities, most school districts will be required to go out to bid to select a security systems integrator to handle their systems' installation. When looking over the various proposals, school officials would be wise to look for a seasoned integrator with significant technical knowledge and expertise. Most preferable is a security systems integrator who has previous experience working with a school system and can therefore understand its issues and challenges.

Once a systems integrator is selected, the integrator can work with school administrators to determine which technologies are the best fit for its particular challenges. After determining the types of security technology needed, school administrators should ensure the equipment meets certain basic requirements before making any purchases. A knowledgeable security systems integrator can advise schools on the basics of a good system.

One consideration should be scalability. This refers to the system's ability to grow and expand. Scalability is measured not only by the number of doors or card holders a system can support, but also by the number of transactions it can consistently sustain without any loss in performance, and by its open architecture and integration capabilities. "Open architecture" implies that every major component of the system is designed according to industry standards. This is important because it enables interoperability and integration with equipment made by various manufacturers.

One cannot underestimate the importance of the support and service that accompanies a purchased system. A warranty is a necessity to cover any damage out of the box. And an agreement should be provided that ensures support coverage so that technical emergencies do not result in security lapses. A software support agreement should also include software enhancement updates and software maintenance and firmware updates.

A skilled security systems integrator can help school administrators navigate these issues, ensuring the selection and proper installation of the best system to meet the school district's needs.

Jerry Robinson is president and founder of ABC Security Corp., a 32-year-old Wheeling, IL-based security integration firm that is an eight-year member of SecurityNet, a group of independent security system integrators that provide globally integrated security solutions and services to the corporate marketplace.