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Enhancing school security takes the collective effort of administrators, school personnel, local officials, security experts, and even students and parents working together. The challenge they face isn’t agreeing that security is a priority. Often it’s deciding how best to secure a campus and how much to spend on the security solution. After all, schools are often working within a tight budget.
To start (and what we’ll address here in more detail) is the importance of first looking at school security holistically. It’s critical to work with a system integrator that can help you think about each area of your school and understand the security challenges they present. Doing so will help you accurately determine what is needed to properly safeguard these zones. For example, you may need different network cameras for the cafeteria than you do for the hallways, and these are probably going to be different from the ones installed outside or at the front entrance.
This kind of approach can also help you save on costs (whether from a purchasing or energy savings standpoint). And money saved, as you can imagine, can be re-invested back into your students’ education.
Let’s begin by talking about some of the on-campus challenges schools typically face when it comes to security, outline some potential solutions, and highlight a case study of a school that successfully enhanced safety while aligning with its efforts to reduce energy consumption, and thus costs.
The Challenges In Securing A Campus From Trespassers
Securing a campus isn’t as simple as replacing old locks and hiring additional security personnel; although these certainly may be part of the solution. Bruce Canal, CPP Business Development Manager, Education, Axis Communications, Inc., noted it’s critical to look at security holistically, starting with the perimeter.
“Schools should first think about point of entry,” said Canal. “They should direct anyone who wants to enter the building to a single point. The idea is the building’s entire perimeter should be secure. No one should be able to slide through side doors, back doors, or even windows that are unlocked or unguarded.”
Canal further explained it’s important for schools to have installed an effective network access control system to identify visitors and to have trained personnel on staff to properly vet them.
“Personnel should be empowered to ask visitors questions through the system,” said Canal. “’Who are you here to see?’ ‘Does this person know you’re picking him/her up?’ ‘Do you have a scheduled meeting?’ This may seem obvious, but these types of questions can vet people who may not be authorized to pick up the child or enter the building at all.”
After school hours, a new set of challenges emerge, namely the difficulty in identifying a trespasser due to poor lighting.
Securing Your Campus At Night
Let’s begin on the roof where schools are often concerned with students breaking locks and trespassing. This area presents a bevy of hazards, most notably injury due to falling, whether it’s from the side of the building or through weak, vulnerable sections of the ceiling.
To secure rooftops, network thermal cameras could be a good fit because they pick up heat signals from warm-bodied subjects to create black and white, or sometimes artificially colored images. While they won’t provide detailed images, they can detect people in shadows, complete darkness, or other challenging conditions, such as fog or smoke.
“Trespassers are basically trapped on the roof,” Canal explained. “A network thermal camera could spot an individual and send an alert immediately to either law enforcement or school security. Or, if they’re using an intrusion alarm system company, they can pull up the camera and spot two people on the roof acting suspiciously. That company can then call police.”
From a cost perspective, thermals are generally less expensive and use less bandwidth than other cameras. They also have a low rate of false-alarms, which can prevent unnecessary visits from law enforcements and prevent fines from the town.
Of course, simply installing a thermal camera or two isn’t really an answer. It’s important to work with your system integrator to identify whether thermals (or any network solution) are the right fit. It’s also crucial to, again, think about school security comprehensively by answer questions such as:
- Why do we need to enhance security?
- What areas of the school need improved security?
- What’s our budget? What resources are we currently devoting to security?
This is where Canal says his term “IRI” can help, a rule he’s coined to help customers decide what kind of network solutions to install based on the specific situation or area they’re looking to secure. IRI stands for “information, recognition and identification.”
- Information: There may be times you only need to detect a trespasser and know when that person entered an area. However, you may not need every detail, such as their skin, hair and eye color. In this case, network thermal cameras could be a good option. Once detected, the network camera can send an alert to security personnel who can then physically inspect the scene or remotely address the intruder through a loud speaker, such as AXIS C3003-E Network Horn Speaker.
- Recognition: Let’s say you need to monitor a stairwell, but you don’t need such level of detail that you can identify a person’s eye color or the wrinkles on his or her face. Maybe a school administrator can recognize the person with less than a perfect image. In this case, a one megapixel camera equipped with Axis Lightfinder or OptimizedIR technology could be a good option.
- Identification: There are plenty of situations where a high level of detail is needed, such as points of entry, or in hallways or offices where intruders may be able to access important information after hours. In this case, 3 to 5 megapixel cameras that provide a higher level of detail could be appropriate.
IRI is a conversation starter: It can help you think about how each area of your school differs so the appropriate solution can be installed.
“IRI can help you think about how best to secure the campus inside and out in an efficient, cost-effective way,” noted Canal. “It helps us toss away the idea that the same camera will work in every area and for every situation.”
Beyond security, this concept could also help you save on energy costs, especially when considering how best to secure the campus at night.
The Ongoing Discussion Between Lighting And Security
Does keeping the lights on improve safety? There’s a lot of debate around this, but what we do know is excessive lighting (also called light trespass) can not only reduce security but also increase energy costs.
Excessive lighting can cause glare, making it difficult to see, and deep shadows, which are appealing areas for people to hide. Light could also attract trespassers because it allows them to easily see and carry out criminal activity.
Canal explained one solution could be to program lights to turn on (or change from dim to bright) when a sensor is triggered, then coupling this with a network audio solution that makes a pre-recorded announcement to ward off intruders.
“I think this type of network surveillance solution could be powerful,” Canal said. “I really do. Now, will trespassers know it’s a prerecorded message? Maybe. Maybe not. But then the message could inform them that they’re being recorded on camera and to leave the premise immediately. I think this would send a chill up the spine of most people, and they’ll probably leave.”
Of course, the goal is to catch someone before they’ve committed a crime, not after. For example, catching and preventing a person from breaking into a school after hours is more valuable because of the amount of sensitive documents or items they have access to.
The “Campus Blackout” Approach: Turn The Lights Off Completely
Another option you might consider is to take what’s called a “campus blackout” approach. Rock Hill School District is the perfect example. It wanted to update its surveillance system while also aligning with its efforts to reduce energy consumption. After much research, they felt turning the school’s external lights off at night could help them accomplish this.
However, darkness reduces how effective traditional cameras are so Rock Hill needed technology that would help them identify and produce high-resolution, color images in low-light conditions. To do this they used a combination of Axis Lightfinder and OptimizedIR technology depending on the area and the amount of light present.
The school accomplished its objective to enhance security in a sustainable way, and the results have been positive, according to school officials. There has been a lower number of reported incidents and a significant decrease in electrical costs.
In terms of lighting costs, Kim Melander, Rock Hill School Energy Systems Manager, estimated the campus blackout policy saved roughly $3,500 for an elementary school, $7,000 for a middle school and upwards of $10,000 for a high school.
Anthony Cox, Deputy Superintendent for Rock Hill Schools also found the solution they installed helped them meet all of their objectives.
“The system that had the best crime-deterring capability was also very good with sustainability,” said Cox. “Safety is first but efficiency is also very important for the taxpayer. Every dollar you’re spending on the operational side, you’re not spending on the academic side. We very much want to keep our cash in the classroom.”
What’s The First Step To Improving Security?
There are plenty of ways to improve school security, some of which we discussed here. But where do you start? First, it’s important to understand crime can happen on any campus. Second, security isn’t a one and done event. Whatever solution is installed should be continually maintained, monitored and tested to ensure it’s working properly. And, if there is a problem, it should be fixed, which brings us to our third point: Working with the right integrator and choosing the right solution is paramount.
Develop a close relationship with the right parties, such as with your Regional Sales Manager from Axis and your system integrator, and consider maintenance programs, which can ensure your solution is always operating at its optimal level.
Working with the right company can also help you align with your goal to save on costs and maintain a scalable, long-term solution. They can help you fully assess your total cost of ownership and design the right system to suit your needs. For example, do you simply need to detect a trespasser or do you need to identify specifically who they are? Can you shut off all of the lights in your facility or on your campus, similar to Rock Hill, or do you want to keep them on and install a solution that complements this approach? It’s also essential to work with partners who can help you efficiently upgrade your system when needed and maintain cybersecurity and other important features.
Partnering with the right people can empower you to better identify what you need and ultimately interpret, predict and respond to situations. The result: A school that is smarter and safer today than it was yesterday.