Tips on Stretching Your School’s Security Budget

Sept. 16, 2019
Security professionals can invest in technology that provides more protection for less

Nearly every educational institution, whether K-12 or post-secondary, wrestles with budgetary constraints and trade-offs. And nowhere is that tension more evident than when it comes to investing in security systems. You’d love to have as much protection as possible, but you’re often forced to settle for less, given the funds you have available.

Technology manufacturers hear your frustration and have been developing solutions that can lower your investment costs while expanding security coverage on your campus.

But first, let’s take a step backwards in time and consider how you’ve been meeting your security goals up until now.

  • Deterrence: It’s likely that your initial investment in technology – be it video cameras, magnetic door locks, etc. – was for the purpose of deterring wrongdoers. You hoped that a criminal would see a camera and be less likely to perpetrate an offense for fear that the image captured by the camera would lead to their immediate arrest. You hoped your “impenetrable” door locks would discourage vandals from easily breaching entries, and they did . . . until they learned to cut power to the building which would automatically unlock all magnetic locked doors, or they realized no one was monitoring the “door open” alarms.
  • Forensic evidence: You probably then invested in video retrieval technology and access control systems to investigate the crimes you were unable to deter. You looked to features like time/date stamping and intelligent search algorithms to help investigators easily track a criminal’s path and hopefully help you retrieve stolen goods or hold vandals accountable for damages. These tools became part of your investigation. You also looked to access card system user logs for recent entries to determine if the culprit was an insider.
  • Proactive response: As you became more adept at campus security, the next obvious evolution was to move from a reactive stance to a proactive one. Now you turned to security investment that could provide early warning of potential threats and could provide your staff and local law enforcement with critical real-time situational awareness so they could tailor their response to events accordingly.

As you added each new layer of security, it became a balancing act between preventing criminal acts, improving response times and making sure your campus didn’t feel like a prison. And amongst all these challenges, you needed to bear in mind that your budget could only stretch so far.

So now consider the ways that new technology on the market could make your security dollars go farther.

Saving Money Without Compromising Security

Today’s video cameras have become smarter and more “real-time” security solutions. They probably comprise a significant portion of your security dollars. For each camera you install on campus you have to pay a corresponding video management system license fee. But now there is another option.

  • Multi-lens camera. If you want to trim that expense, a multi-lens camera would be a great way to go. These multi-directional cameras contain four lenses that operate independently to provide a 360-degree view of the location. Because the four lenses reside in a single camera, you only must purchase one license fee for the one IP address. That’s a significant savings right off the top.

  In addition to being cost-effective to operate, many of these new cameras contain a plethora of features to ensure exceptional video quality under virtually        any lighting conditions. They come equipped with infrared for nighttime illumination, lowlight sensitivity to enhance images at dusk or dimly lit locations, and     wide dynamic range for blinding sunlight, glare and shadow. So, you don’t have to install additional cameras to cover other angles or specialized cameras to   meet multiple lighting challenges.

  • Radar-enhanced pan/tilt/zoom camera (PTZ). Another option for reducing camera costs without compromising coverage is the new a radar-enhanced PTZ camera. Many schools employ traditional PTZs on an automatic guard tour; taking precious minutes to pan from one point to another. While PTZ cameras allow you to cover a larger area of view with fewer cameras oftentimes when an event occurs the camera is pointed in the opposite direction, so the incident is missed or only partially captured. Radar-enhanced PTZs, however, avoid this problem by using the radar feature to detect motion across a wide field of view and automatically redirect the camera’s attention and focus onto the movement. The camera then follows the movement, recording and potentially sending an alert to security that activity has been detected. Keep in mind the camera is still watching all areas while pinpointed on a specific event. This makes the radar-enhanced camera a good technology to deploy to protect your large, high asset areas like athletic complexes and parking lots. 
  • Advance compression technology. The advance compression technology supported by these cameras delivers additional savings. Designed specifically for security applications, this compression algorithm can reduce your streaming video bandwidth consumption by more than 50 percent without loss of image or reduction of frames per second. This also translates into a significant saving in server storage space.

Taking a Pre-emptive Stand Against Intruders

Vandalism and theft can have a devastating impact on school resources. Now there is a new technology tool on the market to help educational institutions thwart this criminal activity.

  • Network horn speaker. Schools can use a network horn speaker to broadcast a warning when a burglar or trespasser enters an unauthorized area. The speaker is linked to a video surveillance camera that detects the intruder when they cross a pre-determined line and triggers the horn speaker message. The pre-recorded announcement would inform the intruder that they are under recorded surveillance and authorities have been notified. This is likely to stop a criminal in their tracks and convince them to flee the area before doing any harm. The message can be programmed for specific days/dates and hours of the day.

From past experience as the director of physical security for a large school district, I can tell you that if we had had this type of technology in place, we might have prevented a late-night burglary that resulted in some expensive losses. As it was, the thief broke the glass on a door, which activated our silent alarm. But the thief was able to run into the IT office, steal some laptops and be out the door before police arrived on the scene. The event became an investigation rather than an apprehension. If we had the horn speaker blasting a loud and threatening message to the would-be burglar in all probability, we could have scared him off before he got into the building.

I can recall another more frequent problem at our school where the horn speakers would have proved a valuable deterrent. We discovered that students loved to climb onto the roof of the school at night or on weekends when the building was vacant. They would skateboard or simply hang out, sometimes even cause vandalism. Occasionally someone would try jumping from the second story roof to the ground. You can imagine the outcome: they were injured, and the school district was held culpable. We decided to go proactive and installed network cameras in the area (some with thermal imaging and some with lowlight sensitivity) tied to a loud horn speaker to stop this activity. What we learned is that attempts to get on the roof had been happening with a lot more frequently than we had ever imagined.

Whether you’re a K-12 school or a post-secondary institution, network speaker horns tied to network cameras can be powerful tools to prevent costly incidents. They can be easily installed on fence lines, on the outside of exterior doors, at the entrances to sport complexes and even rooftops of buildings. In addition, they can be accessed via a smartphone during an incident allowing school administrators or officials to make live announcements.

Vetting Visitors Before They Enter the Building

Your job as a school security professional has always been to protect people and assets. Given today’s climate, many districts are increasing their emphasis on prevention, which often starts at the main entrance. Technology manufacturers are right there with you.

The truth is, most active assailants have marched right through either unlocked doors or were buzzed in the main entrance without being vetted. With the right technology in place, however, you can tightly control access to the building at every entry point.

  • Network video door station. Network video door stations are all-in-one appliances combining a surveillance camera, intercom and integrated multi-frequency reader for access control. Some door stations even include keypads for two-step authentication: swiping a card and inputting a PIN. On the video side, the full-featured, high-definition surveillance camera is loaded with functionality such as a wide-angle lens for an expansive field of view and a wide dynamic range lens for sharp images even under challenging lighting conditions. On the intercom side, echo cancellation and noise suppression features ensure crystal clear conversation.

Since the door stations are built on open standards you can easily integrate them with your other IP-based physical security systems such as your video management system, your VoIP video/phone system, and your access control and credential management system for remote door lock control from a computer, desk phone or mobile device.

But it’s important to remember that human discernment is as much a factor of door security as the technology you install. You need to train designated staff how to properly vet every person – whether a visitor, parent or vendor – before granting them entry into the school. They should be taught what questions to ask and how to evaluate those responses – read the body language and tone of voice of the individual. They should be taught to automatically look at the camera view to scan the surroundings for other threats such as someone suspiciously lurking near the person requesting entrance. Empowering staff to make the visitor wait outside before entrance is granted can possibly delay a potential tragedy or give local law enforcement time to respond.

While greater situational awareness and better visitor screening are the primary advantages of this new technology, your school can also use the door stations to streamline entry of full-time and temporary staff. For instance, you can issue substitute teachers a temporary PIN or QR code to use at the door station, freeing office staff to focus on the dozens of other demands on their time especially at the busy start of the school day. You can also give time-controlled PINs to after-hours cleaning staff so that they don’t have to worry about losing keys to the building. If your school rents out its building for community events, you might consider giving event organizers a temporary PIN to get into the building and prepare the venue before the doors open for the event.

Analyzing Surrounding Sounds for Potential Threats

Up until this point I’ve focused on using technology to help you assess threats that you can see. But what about assessing threats you might hear? Was the sound you heard a gunshot or simply a car backfiring? Was that a window shattering, or did somebody just drop a glass? Could that be someone shouting in anger or are they simply cheering for joy? New audio analytics technology can help you identify the sounds you’re hearing and automatically direct the camera towards the acoustic event to provide a visual context.

Embedding audio analytics into your network cameras or video door stations gives you an extra layer of situational awareness, an early warning mechanism to detect and apprise you of events you may not yet see. Here are just a few examples:

  • Aggression detection. This analytic identifies verbal aggression before it escalates to assault. The analytic software listens for sound patterns associated with anger, fear or duress. When the software recognizes any of these unique acoustic signatures it automatically triggers an alarm and/or streams real-time video to school security so they can quickly intercede. This technology is especially useful in a school situation where in a matter of minutes joking around and friendly shoving can turn into a full-blown physical altercation. 
  • Car alarm detection. This analytic listens for the sound pattern produced by the most common car alarm systems on the market. The sizable radius of the detection field makes it particularly useful for your campus parking lot or garage. The analytic can send security staff a real-time alert along with location coordinates so that they can get to the scene quickly to prevent theft or vandalism or call emergency responders in the case of an accident.
  • Gunshot detection. This analytic recognizes the sound of gunfire emitted from a variety of firearms: handguns, shotguns, rifles, and automatic weapons. Once the software detects a weapon being discharged it triggers an immediate alert to security personnel who can instantly replay the sound for verification and direct the video cameras in the area to visually assess the threat so they can quickly and safely respond to the event. 
  • Breaking glass detection. This analytic recognizes the sound of breaking glass whether the pane is laminated, single or double plate, tempered or wired. When it detects such a sound the software sends an alert to security staff to investigate. Deploying breaking glass detection analytics can be a cost-effective alternative to installing motion sensors on every school window.

Increasing Security Doesn’t Have to Break Your Budget

There are a lot of new technologies to help your school stretch its security dollars while improving your ability to detect, deter and respond more quickly to incidents on your campus. While not every solution presented here will be right for your school, it’s always worth exploring what’s out there to make your investments more cost-effective and your job of protecting people and assets easier.

About the author: Bruce A. Canal, CPP, is the Business Development Manager for Education for Axis Communications, Inc. He was formally the Director of Physical Security for the Orange County Public School District in Orlando and was a trooper with the Indiana State Police for 16 years.