Economical video migration strategies for cash-strapped schools

May 14, 2014
Several cost-effective steps schools can take to enhance their existing surveillance network

School districts across the nation are facing increasing demands from the public to ensure the safety of students and staff. Unfortunately, security budgets aren’t increasing at the same rate. This leaves school administrators the formidable challenge of finding economical solutions to improve security, including leveraging existing systems.

Existing security systems can generally be divided into the following categories: video, intrusion, access control and fire. Since the vast majority of schools have an existing CCTV video system, we’ll review several migration strategies available to school districts that are looking to upgrade legacy systems .

The majority of legacy video systems are based on analog cameras, which are most often wired via a coax or fiber cable back to a DVR. In some cases, the DVR has a monitor directly attached to it so that the camera’s feed can be viewed locally; or alternatively, if the DVR is network- enabled then there is often remote client software installed so that the video can be viewed remotely.

Because the frequency of incidents is relatively low, live camera monitoring generally doesn’t take place. However, following an incident it is very important that security personnel or administrators have the ability to export relevant video clips for evidence.

Cost-effective Options to Enhance Security

Taking into consideration the budget constraints and the needs of most school districts, here are several options that can be taken to enhance security without major forklift investments.  

  1. Improve recording quality. One way to improve recording quality is to replace DVRs with rack-mounted encoders and NVRs, which are managed using a video management system (VMS). This will provide greater storage capacity and offer higher resolutions, translating to better quality video and more of it. Instead of a week’s worth of pixelated, grainy video, you would have a month’s worth or more of fluid, VGA-clarity video.
  2. Improve camera quality. By replacing analog cameras with IP cameras, you’ll of course improve camera quality. Not limited by the NTSC standard, IP cameras and can deliver HD-quality video or better, which means that when you zoom in on recordings, the image is still very good. The other advantage of some smart IP cameras is that they are capable of video analytics (VA). For example, VA can generate an alarm if students or others are loitering after-hours,if a crowd is forming or if a vehicle is speeding. Alternatively, instead of having VA capabilities onboard an IP camera, a smart NVR can be deployed which empowers VA on any camera, including analog. Here are a couple of things to consider when replacing even just a few analog cameras with IP cameras:
  • While analog cameras are plugged into a coax or fiber cable, IP cameras plug into an IP network. That means you’ll either you have to replace old cabling with network cabling, or you can use converters that allows a coax cable to act like a network cable. Alternatively, you can use a Wi-Fi-enabled IP camera, but then you need to consider that each WiFi camera will consume significant bandwidth and could affect other applications and systems.
  • IP cameras are recorded on NVRs.As such old DVRs would need to be replaced with NVRs. This would incur further expense, but would deliver the benefits listed above.
  • It is also possible to keep the majority of the analog cameras in place and only add or replace several critical ones with IP cameras. Analog cameras could be used to assess general activity in an area, whereas the new IP cameras could be crucial for instances when high-quality identification is necessary. There are two ways to create a mixed analog and IP system: replace DVRs with hybrid recorders that are able to record both analog and IP cameras or keep the DVRs and add NVRs and a VMS just for the IP cameras, then run the two systems independently and in parallel.

There is another more basic yet comprehensive strategy for improving an existing video system: a Physical Security Information Management (PSIM) software solution.  Acting as a layer above old and new systems, PSIM solutions brings together all systems on a single screen as if they are one. PSIM allows you to integrate video, intrusion, access control and fire systems so that they work together rather than in silos. For example, if someone forces open a door, the access control system reports this to the PSIM, which instructs the video system to swing a nearby camera to point at the intruder to capture his identity. Additionally, the PSIM could automatically trigger a lock down and simultaneously notify internal staff and local law enforcement of the situation, while providing a snapshot of the intruder’s face, a map of where the break-in occurred and any associated video footage. 

About the Author

Dr. Bob Banerjee | Dr. Bob Banerjee

Dr. Bob Banerjee is senior director of Training and Development for NICE Systems Security Division, Rutherford, N.J. Banerjee develops programs and initiatives to educate, train and support NICE’s extensive network of security system integrators and dealers and provide thought leadership for NICE’s security industry outreach efforts. He holds a Ph.D. in Artificial Intelligence from the Advanced Research Center at the University of Bristol, England and can be contacted at [email protected].