School Security Moves into the Digital Age

By Garza, Katie | T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), December 2002 | Go to article overview

School Security Moves into the Digital Age


Garza, Katie, T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)


The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have prompted many U.S. companies to reassess their security measures and crisis management plans. Unfortunately, this kind of evaluation was a familiar process for most administrators nationwide who were forced to take a good look at their school safety procedures following the tragic ripple of deadly school shootings that occurred from Oregon to Colorado to Pennsylvania in the late 1990s.

Controversial "zero-tolerance" policies came into vogue, and state police departments, in conjunction with state attorneys general, established anonymous tip hot lines for students, teachers and community members. The National Conference of State Legislatures reported that 36 states considered school safety bills during the 1998 legislative sessions. School policies, such as one passed in Pennsylvania addressing criteria for student expulsions, suddenly included phrases like "terrorist threats" and "terrorist plots." On the local level, school districts responded by locking down their campuses during school hours, and employing school-liaison police officers and metal detectors at entrances. Campus surveillance systems also became commonplace in schools.

While VHS-based surveillance technology and real-time closed-circuit TV monitoring are widely used in schools today, several districts in Texas and Oklahoma have taken their surveillance systems into the digital age. Salient Systems Corp., a digital surveillance recording manufacturer in Austin, Texas, which built its business on retail clients, now has a new market in education. In recent years, the security-technology company has worked with independent school districts, as well as universities and their local police departments to implement remote digital monitoring and recording systems.

Digital Surveillance

Unlike traditional videotape-recorder surveillance, which requires someone on-site to review tapes and handle recording equipment, remote digital-surveillance recording technology enables users to watch and record real-time surveillance footage of school grounds utilizing a Dell PC. The Dell PC-based technology works by transmitting live data from school cameras to networked PCs via an Internet or intranet connection.

The PC-based systems digitize, compress and store surveillance video on the PC's hard drive for up to 30 days. Video files then can be accessed and reviewed on the computer monitor by typing in dates and times. The video files also can be backed up onto a Zip disk or CD-ROM; and, if necessary, individual screen shots of video can be saved as evidence to a floppy disk. Some digital systems even save files in AVI format, enabling any computer equipped with a Windows 95 version or later of Windows Media Player to play back the footage. In practice, this means that a principal can attach a surveillance file to an e-mail, then send it to the police or the school superintendent for immediate review.

Digital recording technology also allows for more defined images than those captured on VHS surveillance systems. The video-frame rate recorded on most digital systems varies between four and 30 frames per second, depending on how many camera views are accessed at once. Users are also able to review video files in a full-screen, real-time format without interrupting any recording or losing picture quality.

Remote Monitoring

Last year, the police department of Spring Branch Independent School District in Houston, Texas, installed Salient digital surveillance systems on five school campuses to monitor lunchrooms, hallways, as well as student and teacher parking lots. The computer servers were connected through a WAN to desktop computers in the principals' offices and at the police department, so that these offices could remotely monitor and record campus activities on a real-time basis.

Chuck Brawner of the Spring Branch ISD Police Department says that the surveillance system has already proven effective. …

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