Guest Column | September 23, 2013

5 Must-Haves For School Security Systems

By Steve Surfaro, Axis Communications

Solutions for a wide range of educational institutions include numerous technologies, but the most useful are those that complement operating procedures, incident response, crisis management/recovery, and the security master plan. The balance is indeed delicate between available technology and funding, so successful practitioners focus on “must haves,” five of which are outlined below.

1. Safety. Security solutions such as physical access control, barriers, and locking systems deployed in school environments should not only enhance school safety, but also must comply with life safety codes and support egress requirements. For example, perimeter openings and areas of higher security require educators, students, parents, staff, and first responders ingress and egress on demand.

2. Communications.  Emergency communications and IP paging may be bundled with unified communications (UC) management systems that many schools already have. A number of solution developers offer emergency communication and mass notifications system integration. From security entry, “blue light” emergency phone communications to audio announcements to groups of phones within a school, this form of UC is gaining traction.

Communication to first responders such as law enforcement, fire, and EMS is vital and the result of community collaboration between each agency and the school, as well as interoperability. Are there communications protocols between office and classrooms for emergencies? Cloud computing, mobility, and video surveillance are here providing new opportunities for better communication of emergencies. A very popular solution permits the “opt-in” of a mobile device to a school’s emergency communications network, allowing simplified sharing of potential threats and incidents in progress with first responders. This solution has now “graduated” to include automated call up of nearby cameras to the incident and personal emergency applications triggered by students, faculty, and staff.

3. Surveillance. Next to emergency communications, video surveillance is an essential tool for forensic review of incidents and real-time event monitoring. Remote video surveillance is now an integral part of today’s private (local network) and public cloud-based video surveillance systems used at many education facilities. The ability to receive even buffered or near real-time video content during an event greatly improves situation awareness for first responders.

As stated by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, law enforcement agencies throughout the nation are increasingly adopting automated license plate recognition (ALPR) technologies to enhance investigative capabilities and compare vehicle license plates with lists of stolen, wanted, and other vehicles of interest. ALPR systems automatically capture an image of the vehicle’s license plate, transform that image into alphanumeric characters, compare the plate number to a database of vehicles of interest, and alert when a vehicle of interest has been observed. Today’s “smart” cameras with embedded platforms can even host an ALPR application and communicate to the school and public safety “back office” systems, all within a matter of seconds.

Lighting systems enhance surveillance, and LED lighting is now a popular part of crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) and offers an improvement to both video surveillance and deterrence. Equipped with LED lighting, advanced video motion detection and wireless emergency communications, newer, modular outdoor waiting areas on a school campus are effective improvements.

Video surveillance also provides diverse uses for schools. Cameras in lecture halls enable teachers, through observation and review tools to connect theory and practice, improve instruction, and focus on student-centered thinking.

4. Asset management. Tracking high-value school equipment like servers, network switches, computers, and projectors is essential from acquisition to disposal. From simple inventory labels to RFID, loss prevention in schools works together with compatible systems including video surveillance and intrusion detection.

5. Leverage the network. Schools of all sizes can successfully save costs by leveraging existing network infrastructure. This savings applies to lower data rate security appliances like card readers, emergency phones, and intrusion sensors. Through the use of lower cost distributed storage, sophisticated video management software, and robust networks, IP video also provides savings. Centralized management enables ease of use and reliability and both IT and security teams enjoy reduced maintenance time.