Network cameras help Dare County Schools keep a watchful eye on its property, says Carl Woody, network engineer.

Aug 31 2009

Simplified Surveillance Systems Amplify School Protection

Dare County Schools turns to network surveillance cameras to deter crime.

Dare County Schools turns to network surveillance cameras to deter crime.

The schools in Dare County, N.C., were experiencing repeated break-ins but having no luck identifying the criminals. In response, the district decided to put network cameras in one of its schools, the Cape Hatteras Secondary School. After a burglar broke in within a month of the installation, police were able to review the video, identify the perpetrator and put a warrant out for his arrest. The video led to a successful prosecution.

Dare County Schools' 11 elementary, middle and high schools cover an 80-mile stretch of North Carolina's Outer Banks. With increased concerns about vandalism and theft common to a school district of its size, Dare County embarked on a search for an affordable approach to surveillance that would act as a deterrent as well as an eyewitness to any incidents.

Simplified Security

When First Flight High School in Kill Devil Hills was built, the district hired a contractor to install an analog surveillance system, which turned out to be an expensive proposition. “Once security became a big issue for the district,” explains Carl Woody, the network engineer for Dare County Schools, “everyone wanted to get cameras into their buildings, too. But there was no way we could have afforded it if we used the same system and hired an outside contractor like they did for the high school.”

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All of the schools in the district already had analog cameras covering their exteriors, recording to VHS tapes. But according to Woody, the problem with VHS was that someone needed to remember to hit the record button and swap out tapes as needed. If that person was unavailable or forgot, nothing was recorded. Also, these solutions were not networked, so administrators couldn't view the cameras remotely. Woody wanted to deploy a digital solution that could be accessed over the network, with motion-sensing cameras that would record only what was necessary, rather than large amounts of continuous video.

After extensive research, Woody decided on a network video system from Axis Communications. It took his IT team about a month to deploy cameras in eight schools.

Leveraging Existing Infrastructure

Because the district already supports Voice over IP, all the schools are connected via fiber. Existing inline power switches reduced the cost of installation and made it much easier to deploy the cameras. Integrating the Axis cameras and video encoders into the network was just a matter of pulling the wires through the conduit, which was done after school hours and during summer vacation. “We were able to complete each school installation fairly quickly,” Woody says. “It only takes about a day to pull the wires and then maybe half a day to mount the cameras.”

Because the district already had a mixed array of analog cameras, it was important to incorporate video feeds into the network solution as well. This was accomplished by attaching them to an Axis 240Q video encoder at each site.

The Right Camera for the Job

The number of Axis cameras deployed at each site ranged from six to 15, depending on the size of the school. Woody also installed Axis Camera Station software on the desktops of the principals and authorized staff members at each location, giving them access to the network cameras in their own building.

The surveillance system at each school comprises an array of Axis indoor network cameras and an Axis 240Q video encoder to digitize the video feed from the outdoor analog cameras that point to the school entrances, parking lots and play areas. Axis 210A network cameras cover stairwells and hallways at several schools.

“When it came to determining where to locate the cameras, our main concern was covering the hallways,” states Woody. He decided to mount Axis 212 PTZ network cameras on the walls at opposite ends of a hall and leverage their pan/tilt/zoom capabilities to ensure complete coverage of the area. “I especially like that the Axis 212 PTZs have no movable parts, so I don't have to worry about the motor or anything else failing on it.”

Initially, the schools thought 10 days of video archiving would be sufficient, so Woody installed a total of 800 gigabytes of storage on each server managing the video. But as time went by, the schools realized that they actually needed to maintain recordings for up to 30 days, which necessitated adding two terabytes of external storage to each server to support the increased storage demands.

Additional Benefits

The network video system has also been an invaluable training tool for the district. “Once the cameras were in place, the district used them at Manteo Middle School to record the sheriff department's SWAT teams doing their drills for securing a school if somebody entered with a weapon,” shares Woody. “The recordings were put in an educational format for the School Resource Officers and SWAT teams to review and critique their actions and identify weaknesses that needed to be addressed.”

With the overwhelming success of the network video system, Woody says the district plans to extend coverage to the athletic fields at one of its high schools.

“Athletic events raise a number of security and safety issues,” Woody says. “In the event that rivalry spills over from the field to the bleachers, with a higher optical zoom, we'll be able to see everything that transpires and even do license plate recognition in the parking lots.”

Network Camera Checklist

When choosing a network camera, it's important to decide what features are most valuable for your environment. Here is a suggested checklist to get you started:

  • Lens: fixed iris or varifocal? autofocus or zoom?
  • Image sensor: progressive scan CCD image sensor or high-quality CMOS?
  • Video resolution: 480x360 or 640x480 pixels? megapixel or HDTV 1920x1080?
  • Frame rate: 6, 12, 27 or even 30 frames per second?
  • Video compression format: Motion JPEG? JPEG-4? H.264?
  • Power over Ethernet: 802.3af or 802.3at compliant?
  • Audio: G.711 or AAC-LC format? one-way or two-way communication?
  • Embedded analytics: motion detection, audio detection or license plate recognition?
  • Software compatibility: proprietary or open API?
  • Security: multilevel user name/password, IP filtering, HTTPS, IEEE 802.1X?
  • Management: built-in web interface? multicamera remote access?
<p>Forrest MacCormack</p>

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