Creating an Effective District Video Surveillance Strategy
A video surveillance system, a necessity for districts today, must be properly managed to reap its greatest benefits. Disturbance alerts and mobile device access are two features that can help district leaders utilize their surveillance system effectively. This web seminar, originally broadcast on February 6, 2014, featured a video surveillance expert who discussed features to look for in surveillance software, how to reduce the costs associated with surveillance software, and the importance of integrating fire alarms and panic buttons into the surveillance system.
Senior Sales Engineer
Video Insight is a developer of VMS software. We write the software that handles recording, managing and allowing users to do searches in video. Basically, we handle the management of the video stream and turn it into something useful. Of our 25,000 customers, we serve 5,000 different districts and higher education institutions. We have done many large-scale projects with school districts, integrating things like access control and panic buttons.
When we start talking about districtwide video surveillance, there are several challenges we commonly see:
- Systems are too difficult to use. If someone is fighting with a system, they are not using it in an effective fashion.
- Growth is not taken into account. Often, district personnel will buy a system for what they need today. But, security systems are generally in place five to seven years. What you need today may not be what you need in five years.
- Lack of support. A video surveillance system is complicated from an architecture and use perspective. You will want to make sure you have support from representatives at the company from which you buy your system.
Video Insight has a wide range of products because we understand different districts have different needs. The Monitor Station platform that we offer is the primary client software. It is a full-featured application that is installed on a desktop. The Investigator is a smaller tool that is for district leaders who are focused on heavy investigations. This system is aimed more at school resource officers who need to document cases. The Web Client is a simple system that allows users to easily view and export videos. The Mobile Client is for users who are transient and cannot be tied to a desk all day to see what is going on in a school. One of the things we want people to do is change the kind of user they are. Most district users engage with video forensically. They check a video when an incident is reported.
We want to help forensic users to become semi-active. We want people to not have to wait until things are reported, but also to not have to watch video 24/7. We want to improve response time and give people the ability to have sensors to view things. There are many examples in security of relays; relays allow people to be alerted when a change of state has occurred in a particular system. When a smoke detector indicates to a fire alarm that a fire has occurred, all that happens is a circuit closes. Everything we work with at Video Insight has that type of functionality built into it. We want to give districts the ability to tie similar sensors into their video system. When a fire alarm goes off, everyone in the school building where the alarm goes off will know, due to the siren. However, someone in the superintendent’s office may not know immediately. What a superintendent can do is set up an alert in the Video Insight system that lets them know when a fire alarm in any of the district buildings goes off. A similar alert can be set up when a burglar alarm goes off. Instead of waiting for the security company to send someone out, a district leader can receive an email or text from the video surveillance system. He or she can then pull up the video from their smartphone and give law enforcement officials information about what is going on in the school building.
We can also integrate panic buttons. Teachers can press a button on a pendant discretely to trigger a panic alarm. If we have a situation where a non-custodial parent tries to remove his or her child from a class, the teacher can press the panic pendant that is hanging on his or her neck to inform the administration. Our system also gives users the ability to read license plates from a video feed and respond based on that information. If I have a database of all student and teacher plates, and a car with a plate that is not in the system approaches the school, an alert can be sent to personnel in the school that an unfamiliar person is on school grounds. This gives users more control, without having to watch video 24/7. Video Insight also offers pop-up videos. A hovering video pops up onto the desktop, alerting users that something may need their attention. If someone pulls a fire alarm as a prank, when the administration gets back into the building, they will find a pop-up video waiting for them of the last 30 seconds of recorded video from the camera nearest to the pull station. We also offer text alerts. This allows users on the go to receive alerts when something has been disturbed and immediately pull up video from their mobile app. We can also accompany alerts with instructions. If a panic alert occurs, if there is a process and procedure required, such as the administration needing to contact someone specific in law enforcement, we can include those details and the law enforcement contact information right in the alert.
One of our small district customers in Louisiana originally purchased our system because of a break-in. However, district leaders also found out they could use the software to deal with tardiness in one of their schools. They had a problem with tardiness to classes because the hallways of the building were not wide enough to handle the volume of students. It was difficult to tell whether a student was legitimately late to a class because of this, or if they were just using this as an excuse. What the administrators did was place cameras in the bottleneck areas. When classes let out, teachers would dismiss students in intervals based on the volume that they could see from the video feed. This eliminated overcrowding in the halls, and reduced lateness. Centralized management of our system allows a user to configure and control cameras without needing to be onsite or needing to log into multiple servers. Camera permissions can be assigned to different groups or at the individual level. There are management tools that let system administrators know how much bandwidth is being used, the last time an image was recorded, if a camera is down, and more.
We work with Denver (Colo.) Public Schools, where there are 6,000 cameras. The cameras are managed centrally on a blade server using eight virtual machines. They have simplified the management of the cameras while bringing everything to a central location. We also work with the smaller Pflugerville ISD in Texas. They have managed to combine 2,200 cameras on 10 servers. They are using two servers for failover. Centralization reduces both management headaches and costs. In Denver’s case, going from 155 campuses each having their own servers down to a blade server took their projected costs from $1.75 million in server costs alone to just $75,000. These systems can be complex, with hundreds of cameras, cameras from different manufacturers, VMS from different manufacturers, and integrated access control. You want to make sure your VMS provider will give you the support you need. Call center support is fine for simple tasks, but ongoing training and personalized support like Video Insight offers is necessary for managing video surveillance in your district.