School Security

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I recently presented at an event in St. Louis hosted by Tech Electronics focused on the education market. It was very well attended, and I can’t thank Tech enough for involving me in their event. Here are a few things I took away from that event.

First, this is an extremely sensitive and scary vertical to talk to. Attention to building security is at an all time high following the Sandy Hook incident. Buildings that were previously unlocked all day are locking down their facilities. Doors and locks are being reinforced and replaced. Districts are making emergency plans they hadn’t previously thought of.

It’s difficult to talk about strictly from a video perspective because, by itself, surveillance is not a preventative device. The conversation has to go beyond the camera. Sure, you can set up alerts based on motion detection, but in most scenarios there is too much motion to call attention to every event.

Aiphone was also a presenter at the event. I’m a big fan of their products and their brand from my past as a contractor. They have a very compelling solution for a school environment. In many conversations with the schools and consultants, this came up as their first line of defense. Lock the doors and put in a video intercom to control access.

To me, this is not ideal. If the first knowledge you have of someone with bad intentions is when they’re at your front door, that could be bad. Most schools do not have doors and windows that will stand up to someone shooting their way in.

There are other options out there to detect people and vehicles before they’re touching the building. Obviously, the effectiveness of these options will depend on the layout of each property.

Physical devices could be tied in to the video system to initiate alarms. Some of these might include driveway sensors, optical fencing, or PIR (Passive Infrared) devices. Driveway sensors are pretty accurate with very few false positives. This is a good way to let someone know a vehicle is on the property. Optical fencing can be good, but typically works on line of sight. The number of false positives will be higher, because animals, blowing trash, bad weather, etc. will cause alarms. PIR devices operate on heat differences. They’re pretty accurate, but they’re typically used in fairly small scenes, and not commonly used outdoors.

Another way to detect vehicles could be License Plate Recognition (LPR). One nice thing about this approach is the ability to add the common vehicles that come on the property to a list that will not alarm. However, when an unknown vehicle drives past, an alarm can be generated. LPR has many other use cases as well.

Analytics could also be used with the video surveillance system to detect people and vehicles. This could initiate an alarm onsite or offsite. Here’s a video from VideoIQ that shows the analytic detecting vehicles and people. To me, this is a very powerful solution for a school to detect threats before they’re at the door.

The biggest weakness in all of these ideas is people. Hopefully everyone agrees that with technology and equipment, we can detect and identify potential threats. However, if an alarm is generated and there’s nobody to look at it, it’s not worth much. Most schools I’ve seen have either an administrator, office staff, or Resource Officer looking at video during the school day. However, all of those people have other things to do, and video is a secondary priority. If we generate alerts and there’s nobody to verify them, none of this will be as effective as it could be.

I recommend districts do their own monitoring or contract out video monitoring. If we can detect threats in the parking lot, hopefully the school staff will have enough time to keep everyone safe inside.

As always, please share your thoughts on this via comments, email, or social media.

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