Modern Methods of Securing Schools

Today's access-control and video-surveillance systems can work together to provide a holistic solution for educational environments. Keeping intruders off campus, limiting access to facilities that house expensive equipment, and remotely monitoring secluded areas can cut down significantly on crime and provide peace of mind to administrators, teachers, staff, students and parents. To create an optimal environment for learning, schools need to offer cutting-edge security measures.

An integrated access-control platform is key to creating a system that works together smoothly and seamlessly. Such a system should offer an intelligent, customizable way to integrate essential security functions, including access control and video surveillance, so that everything can be monitored from a single screen at a control center.

Smart features
Security-system software has come a long way. Video tagged to event details, such as a front door opening during school hours, automatically alerts guards viewing the monitors and starts the recording mechanism on the video recorder when breaches occur.

Some campuses allow any valid staff cardholder access to all areas of a facility at any time, but access-control systems can limit who has access to secure areas and what times that access is permitted. Access-management systems will control visitor access and be able to generate reports that show who had entered an area during the times property losses have occurred. Thus, if the orchestra is missing an instrument over a weekend, a school can determine who was in the room from Friday through Sunday.

Because access-control badges on campus also serve as ID cards, the next step will be designing the cards. What should your access-control cards look like? Effective design allows an unfamiliar cardholder to be identified easily by staff members. In most cases, that means photo badges. Keep badge design clean, including only information that is necessary for teachers and security personnel to identify people. If social security numbers are used as employee numbers, do not include them on cards.

New staff will come on-board, transfer students will enroll and others will lose their badges, so schools should buy equipment to print photo badges on-site. In addition, schools should charge a fee for printing cards and a minimal administration fee for replacement cards. These fees will deter cardholders from managing their credentials irresponsibly.

Bridging the gap
One of the biggest issues facing administrators is making the transition from analog CCTV systems to digital. Digital systems have many additional capabilities. Even with a spate of new digital products, the currently installed video systems are primarily analog-based.

These older systems generally do not provide campus staff with the level of security desired. For example, a digital system would allow a college to focus a camera on the entrance to a residence hall during the night and, if a door opens, program the system to provide an alert and have the camera start recording.

In the near future, security products will require network environments to operate. That means that managers will need to create network platforms that support intelligent video and other vertical productivity tools. For, as the CCTV system is being used as a security device to observe threats and fraud, it also must be available for other uses on campus, from curriculum designers to student teachers, who are facing the same infrastructure and virtual systems challenges.

A seamless solution
Security and facility management can be integrated into one system. All applications can be viewed within a single, common, easy-to-use interface. All hardware, even video, alarm and printing equipment, will work seamlessly within its framework.

Entering security and facilities data just once, and having the framework synchronize with existing hardware and software automatically, is happening on many campuses. With a standards-based command-and-control integration platform, campuses and districts can integrate multiple aspects of their security and facility management within a single screen.

From the console, administrators can view live images from surveillance cameras, control pan-tilt-zoom cameras or search for video clips stored on digital video recorders (DVR). When an event or alarm is triggered, the system can tell the DVR to begin recording, display live video from a linked camera at the location, map the alarm location and send an e-mail to an administrator.

A school's security system should be as flexible as possible, taking advantage of what a school already has, while being capable of integrating future technologies and tools as they are introduced.

    NOTABLE
  • 3,500 - Number of cameras recently installed in DeKalb County (Ga.) Schools.
  • 98,000 - Number of students in the DeKalb County (Ga.) district.
  • 32 to 48 - Number of cameras outfitted in every school in the DeKalb County (Ga.) district.
  • $8.9 MILLION - Cost of the security upgrade in the DeKalb County (Ga.) district.
  • Tying multiple properties together

    The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey serves as the state's university of health sciences and is the largest such institution in the nation. On any given day, the university's network of five schools spreads across five cities and serves up to 18,000 students, researchers, teachers, patients and employees.

    When the university sought to improve security on its campuses, it looked for a single system that could tie all of its properties together. Its aim was to make the facilities highly accessible and highly secure.

    The university's security system has evolved from a $100,000 investment in 1993 to more than $2 million today. Each step of the way, the university considered its ultimate goal of tying all security systems together.

    "This is a very complex system with dual credential-based access control with 22,000 users, including multiple-level access at certain points," says Sgt. Frank DeMarzo, supervisor in charge of communications for the public safety and police departments on the main Newark campus. "Currently, the predominant card reader is a magnetic-stripe reader, but we are migrating to dual credential readers that also accept proximity cards throughout our campuses."

    The university recently upgraded its CCTV system to digital video multiplexer-recorders with Ethernet capability and plans to add 75 cameras. Security staff can record, play and view surveillance activity simultaneously with digital day/night pan-tilt-zoom cameras stationed throughout the five campuses.

    Integrated surveillance and access-control systems allow officials to call up instant live video, and recordings of alarm conditions and system activity.

    A security boost

    DeKalb County (Ga.) Schools upgraded its video-surveillance systems by installing 3,500 surveillance cameras and 220 digital video multiplexer recorders with Ethernet-connection capabilities at 140 district facilities. The security system has helped resolve incidents more quickly and accurately, and has reduced the need for guard service at district schools.

    The school district wanted to eliminate videotapes and have a way to view camera feeds over their LAN (local area network). Now, each school has its own control room, and school detectives can review video quickly and burn evidence CDs if necessary.

    Each control room has a 21-inch monitor and a 17.4-inch plasma screen. The plasma screen doubles as a CPU monitor for review and access control.

    Every school in the district has 32 to 48 cameras. Most are situated in public areas such as hallways, parking lots, cafeterias and school entrances. The cameras are integrated with the school's access-control system.

    The cameras also help to deter student violence. Fights and break-ins have been recorded in schools, and the word quickly got out that school officials had videotaped evidence. The district also has used video evidence to help track down an arsonist in a neighborhood near a school.

    Sorrentino is director-vertical markets for GE Infrastructure, Security, Boca Raton, Fla.

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