Manuel Zamudio, Technology Director at Monterey Peninsula Unified School District, says cloud-based surveillance tools expand much-needed visibility for all staff.

Jul 03 2024

K–12 Leaders Find Technology Helps Speed Physical Security Responses for All

Schools install powerful, cloud-based surveillance tools to keep students safe.

Like many school systems over the past several years, Monterey Peninsula Unified School District in California recently faced a spate of fresh security issues. Incidents of vandalism were up, and sometimes unauthorized individuals would camp on school property.

MPUSD’s 20 schools already included hundreds of aging, networked IP cameras to help ensure physical security, but their usefulness had started to wane just when administrators needed a more reliable, flexible and adaptable solution.

“Maintaining the central server was a challenge,” explains Technology Director Manuel Zamudio. “We started to notice that the video feeds had degraded, and we couldn’t really identify where the problem was. We replaced the hard drives and tried to troubleshoot the system. It would work for a couple of months, then fail — always when we needed footage the most.”

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After reviewing its options and obtaining adequate funding — most recently, a federal grant through the School Violence Prevention Program — MPUSD began overhauling its physical security platform with an eye to the cloud. It started by changing up its network infrastructure and deploying Cisco Meraki MV smart cameras and cloud-based surveillance.

“We wanted to partner with solution providers that could help us grow in the security space without putting too many more resources in our data center,” Zamudio says. And because the most effective first responders are often those who work in schools daily, a cloud-based security solution meant local administrators could exercise a measure of control over their own security by accessing the system from their desks.

“The principals especially like it because staff can’t be everywhere all the time,” says Zamudio. “For them, it’s nice to have visibility into an incident and identify exactly what’s happening.”

DIG DEEPER: The COPS SVPP Grant for funding school safety.

Why a Holistic Approach to School Security Is Necessary

Increasingly, school districts are turning to cloud-based solutions to better manage their physical security and create a more pervasive security posture. “Who is the first responder in a school?” asks Chuck Wilson, board chair of the Partner Alliance for Safer Schools. “With today’s technology, we can empower faculty — and in some cases, students — to be that first response.”

PASS, whose leadership includes executives from Safe and Sound Schools, the National Systems Contractors Association and the Security Industry Association, publishes comprehensive, annual guidelines that cover everything from visitor management to video surveillance.

“Emerging platforms — digital cameras, analytics and intelligence at the edge — give schools so much more information they can use to prevent security incidents, not just for forensics after something’s happened,” Wilson says. “Digital technology is one of the most significant advancements in school safety. More and more, artificial intelligence and other advances will better enable schools to monitor situations.”

At MPUSD, the Meraki video management system helps users understand what their cameras are seeing. With the cameras’ built-in motion detection, the system can distinguish between a vehicle, person or dog, Zamudio says, and alerts staff only to security threats.

“When Meraki added new features and intelligence, we didn’t have to replace anything. Our annual licensing covers all of the upgrades,” Zamudio says. “And they provide an application programming interface platform so we can tie in other systems.”

Monterey is beginning to integrate its access control systems with the Meraki cloud so, for instance, if sensors detect someone pulling on a restricted door, an alert is generated and the camera feed is immediately available.

The district worked with CDW to identify where cameras should go for maximum security, identifying possible blinds spots but staying within the limits of student privacy policies. Cameras don’t go in classrooms or bathrooms, for instance, but their increased visibility around school grounds has helped deter unwanted activity. “Schools that had been reporting vandalism saw an immediate change due to the new cameras,” Zamudio says.

LEARN MORE: Stakeholder collaboration and technology can keep students safe.  

Hernando County Schools Use Fiber as the Technology Backbone

Florida’s Hernando County School District designed a private cloud to accomplish similar security goals. When Jill Renihan became the district’s first director of safe schools, she inherited an ad hoc infrastructure of analog security cameras across 23 schools, some of which didn’t work properly.

It was tempting to simply install new cameras.

“But I didn’t want to just put up new cameras so I could say we put up new cameras,” she explains. “We’re not a district with a lot of money, so it had to be the right solution on the right backbone.”

Chuck Wilson


The district spent two years installing a 10-gigabit-per-second, dark fiber network in its buildings. It then began to integrate Axis IP cameras — about 2,000 in all — plus an Axis Camera Station video management system, networked intercoms, HALO smart sensors and more. It had already adopted an OMNIA access control system.

REVIEW: The HALO Smart Sensor 2C snuffs out vaping in K–12.  

“One of the big selling points was that Axis, the HALO sensors and our access control all had open APIs and could work together,” Renihan says. “For instance, vaping is an issue, but we can’t have cameras in restrooms. But our sensors can tell us what’s happening, and we have cameras fixed on bathroom doors when an event is triggered. It’s the same thing if the system senses a school door is ajar.”

Each school has a server in the district’s central data center for storing video, and the feeds and alerts are available to authorized staff on any mobile device. The district maintains a VPN connection to local law enforcement, which can also access security footage. The solution even allows administrators to initiate a lockdown from a smartphone.

During one intruder drill, the system identified an individual staged in a safety vest and alerted the school to their location. “The school resource officer was with that person in 45 seconds because of the feedback they were able to get electronically,” Renihan says.

READ MORE: These four pillars of physical security make schools safer.

Old and New Tech Support Incident Reports, Alerts and Responses

North Little Rock School District, has created a similar private cloud network to manage security across its 15 campuses. The Arkansas district has roughly 800 cameras from a variety of vendors, “blending older with newer technology,” says Hayward Finks, director of safety services, who was in law enforcement for 33 years before joining the district.

“It was important for us to get new video management software because, obviously, it’s impossible to watch 800 cameras,” Finks says. “We have the capability now through AI to flag areas of concern — such as places where it appears people are congregating — and get alerts where we need to focus.”

Source:, “2023 COPS Office School Violence Prevention Program,” October 2023

Additionally, the district has adopted STOPit, a cloud-based mobile response platform that allows staff and students to report security incidents, including bullying.

“It’s part of a holistic model of security that’s worked pretty well for us,” Finks says.

For the past two years, North Little Rock has been overhauling much of its physical security, updating its video surveillance, access control and weapons detection technology. Each system generates its own alerts, and Finks says the district is moving toward an integrated operating model.

“We’re about 90 percent of the way to where we’d like to be,” he says. “But all of the progress we’ve made in this two-year window has been almost unheard of.”

Photography by Cody Pickens

Learn from Your Peers

What can you glean about security from other IT pros? Check out new CDW research and insight from our experts.