An IP camera system lets Josh Tieman (left) and Mark Lindhorst of Fort Osage School District in Missouri access video and burn a CD within 10 minutes.

Apr 05 2010

Candid Cameras: Inspecting School Surveillance Systems

School districts that have deployed IP video surveillance systems share insider tips for managing data.

School districts that have deployed IP video surveillance systems share insider tips for managing data.

By Heather B. Hayes

School districts that have deployed IP video surveillance systems share insider tips for managing data.

August 2010 E-newsletter

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Candid on Camera: IP Video Surveillance

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Four years ago, the Fort Osage School District in Independence, Mo., installed 194 JVC digital cameras at various locations across its 12 schools, a setup that over 30 days can result in as much as 19 terabytes of stored images on backend digital video recorders.

Had this been a traditional analog security system, school officials would have been overwhelmed by such a hefty amount of data, but because the new system is based on Internet Protocol, reviewing the video footage for a specific incident is as easy, intuitive and speedy as browsing the web, says Mark Lindhorst, network administrator for Fort Osage School District.

“I can get to the DVR instantly, do a quick search by time or camera and have the video burned to a CD within 10 minutes,” he says, noting that each DVR has its own IP address for easy access. “You log in and you're pretty much there and done.”

An IP video surveillance system clearly has many benefits. Users access the system via the web. They can view live footage or review stored images anytime and from anywhere, including via a computer in their office or on a cell phone or personal digital assistant. Users can conduct easy searches of video or skip through the footage by clicking a mouse. Cameras record at a significantly higher image quality, and the number of frames can be reduced to save storage space. And images of specific incidents can be pulled and saved to various storage devices.

Nonetheless, for all its advantages over older analog and coaxial security systems, IP cameras introduce new data management challenges for K–12 school and technology administrators. These include storage, access, security, network performance, and developing policies that govern the release and use of the images.

Make Choices Upfront

Implementing a digital security system poses a steep learning curve for school officials, but early adopters have come up with some best practices that ease the way.

A first step is architecting the system design so that bandwidth-intensive video doesn't pull down the school's primary network. Fort Osage addressed this concern by using dedicated wiring to hook up cameras and connecting only DVRs to the network's data switch.

“We can still get to any camera over the network through the DVR,” says Josh Tieman, camera systems administrator at Fort Osage. “It makes it super clean. There's no impact on the network.”

Lindhorst notes that storage is another data management issue that schools must address as they consider numerous technology and policy options. At Fort Osage, all camera footage is stored on DVRs, but once those devices are filled (each DVR holds between 15 and 30 days of recording), the images are deleted and the process starts over again.

@EdTech To learn more about how to use IP cameras in emergencies, go to

Backing up images to a storage area network was an option, but Fort Osage officials didn't see it as a priority. With a limited budget, they preferred to invest extra funds in more cameras and DVRs.

“For our needs, it's really not that mission critical to keep all this footage forever, because if there is an incident, we're going to find out about it immediately or at least within the first few days of it occurring,” says Tieman. He adds that the footage of reviewed incidents is saved and stored to a CD for school documentation or police evidence.

871 gigabytes
The amount of DVR storage space needed for a school with 16 cameras programmed to save 14 days of video images at 15 frames per second

SOURCE: DVR Security Systems

Canby School District in Canby, Ore., which installed 50 JVC cameras in 2009 to monitor its roughly 5,000 K–12 student population, also stores images to backend DVRs for a limited period. Joe Morelock, the district's director of technology and innovation, says the frame rates are set to ensure about two and a half weeks of continuous recording.

Redundancy is another short-term storage best practice, says Lane Hunnicutt, director of technology services at Grapevine-Colleyville Independent Schools in the Dallas area. A software program instructs each of the district's 149 Axis Communications cameras to send every other frame to one of two designated DVRs.

“That way, even if one of the storage locations goes down, we'd still have the image preserved on the other one,” Hunnicutt explains.

Use Video Carefully

Security is a critical issue with web-based digital camera systems. Unlike analog systems, IP cameras run over shared connections and, as such, can be hacked, corrupted, deleted or exploited. And even authorized insiders can innocently pose a threat by e-mailing copies of recorded incidents to friends and colleagues.

In fact, as easy as it is for administrators to use the video images for safety purposes, camera footage in the wrong hands could harm both school and students, says Mike Dorn, CEO of Safe Havens International, a nonprofit organization focused on improving school security.

“A lot of school districts put in digital camera systems because of the technology benefits but then don't think through their access policies and security controls well enough, to the point that we see too many incidences of camera footage of student fights or other problems showing up on YouTube or being shared through e-mail,” he says.

“A lot of these situations are bad, but a 10-second clip can also be completely out of context and make a situation look a lot worse than it is.”

Managing Expectations

Mike Dorn, CEO of Safe Havens International, says there's a tendency among school districts to simply deploy cameras and think they have security covered. It's important for district officials to understand what the cameras do best and where they are less effective.

“You always want to make sure that you don't attempt to replace human supervision with the cameras,” Dorn says. “The most they can do is supplement and augment supervision.” Here are some other guidelines.

Cameras are especially effective at:

  • Deterring students who assume they're always on camera;
  • Monitoring hard-to-supervise areas such as stairwells;
  • Documenting fights, graffiti, theft, school destruction, arson and other incidents, and identifying those involved;
  • Providing emergency management reconnaissance footage to law enforcement and fire personnel before they enter the school to address a hostage or shooting situation or a fire or other building disaster.

Cameras are less effective at:

  • Deterring students who are impulsive, apathetic or motivated to find a camera's dead zones;
  • Recognizing or preventing bullying situations;
  • Preventing or stopping fights and crimes while in process because most schools don't have the budget for continuous monitoring;
  • Documenting incidents that take place in areas without cameras, such as bathrooms or classrooms (although cameras can use images to deduce the likely perpetrators).
<p>Dan Videtich</p>

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