School Surveillance Considerations

Author: Ethan Ace, Published on Feb 29, 2012

[Update: For a more in-depth, newer review, see School Video Surveillance Guide]

In education, surveillance has become much more prevalent in the past decade. Prior to that, many schools had no surveillance systems or limited its use to entrances only. This changed as serious incidents, grant funding and public support increased. Now full-blown surveillance systems can be found even in the smallest of schools. In this guide, we will look at design considerations for primary schools (typically grades kindergarten through 4-6). We cover common threats, camera locations, procurement, network considerations, viewing video and product selection.

Common Threats

Elementary schools have a different set of issues than upper grade schools. Student violence and vandalism are less of a concern at these ages. Most threats to schools at the elementary level are external, including:

  • Vandalism: Damage and vandalism to a school's exterior are common problems, including graffiti, broken windows, or damage to playground equipment.
  • Theft: Computers and AV equipment are the most common targets of theft in schools. Computers especially have become a target, as computer labs are often placed on the first floor, in view of people from the outside, making it easier to "smash and grab".
  • Child abduction: A quick search of the internet turns up thousands of results for attempted child abduction from elementary schools, often by parents without custody. Abduction is less likely than theft or vandalism, but the legal and public relations fallout are far more severe.

Though the above are most common, problems at each school will vary. Some with higher grades, such as K-6, may have more issues with interior vandalism and fighting than grades K through 4 schools.

Common Camera Locations

With the above threats in mind, there are a few locations where elementary schools commonly deploy cameras:

  • Entrances: All entrances to the building should be covered to capture comings and goings. This includes the main entrance, in addition to entrances used during bus loading and unloading, shipping/receiving doors, and doors which may be used for recess or gym class. These doors are most likely to be held open or left unlocked, potentially becoming an entry point for criminals. This is normally best accomplished with a camera inside the building, focused tightly on the entrance. Many facilities have placed cameras outside the building, aimed entrances for this purpose, but this often results in images of the side or back of subjects' heads, not clear facial images. Wide dynamic cameras should be installed in locations with strong backlighting.
  • Building exterior: The exterior of the building, including the building perimeter and play areas, is typically covered to capture vandalism as it happens. Typically this is for forensic use only, as most schools are not staffed at night. The building perimeter is most often covered by cameras aimed from building corners. Fully covering every single exterior wall is often not necessary, as vandalism is far less likely to occur in areas which are under natural surveillance, i.e., close to well-lit streets in residential areas. In these cases, the back of the building or blind spots may be key areas to watch out for.
  • Computer labs: Security is often an afterthought in these labs, with many labs located on the first floor, with unsecured windows and no intrusion detection sensors. This means that breaking a lab window may go undetected until the next morning. For these reasons, cameras are best installed inside of computer labs, paying attention to potential entry points. If the building has an intrusion detection system, as most do, glass break and magnetic sensors should be considered for any windows, and motion detectors for the room. Tying these in to IP cameras via contact closure also allows the VMS system to mark video for quicker retrieval later, and may be used to alert staff to an intrusion in progress.
  • Cafeterias: Of all the areas in an elementary school, the cafeteria is the most likely to see student disturbances, simply because no other area gathers as many students at one time. Typically, the cafeteria is covered from multiple angles, such as from corner to corner, though architectural features such as columns and odd-shaped rooms will dictate whether this is preferable. 180- and 360-degree panoramic cameras are also seeing increased use in these areas, as they allow monitoring of a wide area from a single point.

Network Considerations

Most IP camera deployments in schools use a dedicated network, instead of connecting to existing switches. Schools at the primary level are more likely to have dated network equipment which would be unsuited to IP video. This does not mean that no coordination with school IT staff is required. In most cases, the security and school LANs are connected, so that principals and other administrative staff may view video on their PCs. If video will be monitored remotely, whether via mobile app or a remote command center, firewalls and/or routers must be configured to allow this traffic. All of these configuration changes require coordination with district IT.

Viewing of Video

Get Video Surveillance News In Your Inbox
Get Video Surveillance News In Your Inbox

In most cases, elementary school surveillance systems are viewed live sporadically, at best. Most elementary schools do not have dedicated guard staff, so viewing is often in the form of a monitor located in the main office, which administrative staff glances at occasionally, or when someone is at the door. This sporadic use can lead to missed incidents which may have been easily caught by someone viewing live. It is good practice for staff to view live video with more intent at least during arrival and dismissal, when more doors in and out of the building are open, and during lunch or special events, times during which incidents and intrusions are more likely.

In school districts with a guard force, even though video is not monitored at the elementary school, it may be monitored by guards in a central command center. Like local viewing, this is typically periodic, throughout the school day, not full-time.

Mobile applications may be of interest in primary school settings, as well. Principals are often mobile, out of their office most of the day, and in some cases covering multiple schools. The ability to check in on activities from anywhere may benefit them. Nighttime janitorial staff may benefit as well, in order to look in on the perimeter or exterior areas during the course of their shift, as generally, no one else is viewing video.

Procurement

In most cases, schools have a dollar limit to purchases which can be made without going to bid. In many cases, even purchases below this limit require multiple quotes. Many schools use statewide purchasing programs to avoid the bid process, which can add thousands of dollars in administration to a project. Programs of this type vary from state to state, thought PEPPM is available nationwide, in varying capacities.

Typically, elementary schools receive the least funding for surveillance of all schools in a district. Because of this, it is important that administrators prioritize locations according to where actual problems lie, instead of arbitrarily selecting coverage areas.

Obviously, system price will vary depending on the size of the school. In suburban and rural areas, districts generally will spend $15,000 or less on surveillance of an elementary school. In smaller urban areas, where buildings may easily be double the size, budgets may increase into the $20,000-30,000 range. Large urban areas may spend more than this, as well.

Product Selection

In our experience, there are definite trends in what types of surveillance equipment is being purchased by schools:

  • IP vs. Analog: Like the bulk of new installs, IP cameras are being selected more often than not for school surveillance. The key benefit of IP video to schools is increased resolution, discussed below.
  • Frame rate and retention: Given the small fields of view of most interior areas in schools, frame rates of 5-10 frames per second should be more than sufficient. The purpose of these cameras is more for identification than to capture subtle movements, making the higher framerates extraneous. Exterior areas may use frame rates as high as 15-20 FPS, especially if capturing details of moving vehicles is a concern.
  • SD vs. Megapixel: In many areas, standard definition cameras are sufficient for schools. Inside double-door entrances, for example, are approximately six feet wide. 640 pixels across a six-foot FOV results in over 100 pixels per foot, more than sufficient for identification. Areas with multiple doors may not be well-covered by a single SD camera, however, making megapixel a viable option. Outdoor areas are generally best covered with megapixel cameras, in order to have any hopes of providing identifying details across a wide area. 
  • Multi-Megapixel Use: Multi-megapixel cameras (3MP and above) are sometimes used for very large areas, such as parking lots and sports fields, but should be carefully considered. These areas are often dimly lit, which makes capturing nighttime video a challenge, and providing little benefit over 1.3 or 2MP cameras.
  • Form factor: Minidomes are generally used in interior areas, to reduce susceptibility to vandalism, and maintain better aesthetics. For exterior areas, box, bullet, and minidome styles are used. Box cameras allow for a wider selection of lenses, which may be necessary in some instances. Bullet and box are otherwise used.
  • Fixed vs. PTZ: In elementary schools, since the system is generally unmonitored, and not controlled in real time, PTZ cameras are not recommended. Historically, PTZs have been installed in exterior areas, and set on tour, but this is no longer considered best practice, as PTZ cameras are easily 3x the price of fixed, and perceived as "always looking the other way".
Comments : PRO Members only. Login. or Join.

Related Reports

Alexa Guard Expands Amazon's Security Offerings, Boosts ADT's Stock on Sep 21, 2018
Amazon is expanding their security offerings yet again, this time with Alexa Guard that delivers security audio analytics and a virtual "Fake...
Central Stations Face Off Against NFPA On Fire Monitoring on Sep 18, 2018
Central stations are facing off against the NFPA over what they call anti-competitive language in NFPA 72, the standard that covers fire alarms....
IP Camera Cable Labeling Guide on Sep 14, 2018
Labeling cables can save a lot of money and headaches. While it is easy to overlook, taking time to label runs during installation significantly...
Ascent / MONI Faces Lender Lawsuit and Debt Crisis on Sep 13, 2018
ASCMA, aka Ascent, aka Brinks Home Security, aka MONI, aka Monitronics is being sued by a group of their lenders who allege: As of June 30,...
VMS Export Shootout - Avigilon, Dahua, Exacq, Genetec, Hikvision, Milestone on Sep 13, 2018
When crimes, accidents or problems occur, exporting video from one's video surveillance system is critical to proving incidents. But who does it...
Door Fundamentals For Access Control Guide on Sep 12, 2018
Assuming every door can be secured with either a maglock or an electric strike can be a painful assumption in the field. While those items can be...
IP Camera Cable Termination Guide on Sep 06, 2018
Terminating cables properly is critical to network performance, but it can be a tricky task with multiple steps. Fortunately, this task is easy to...
ADT CEO Is Out on Sep 04, 2018
ADT's CEO Tim Whall is out, 'retiring' in less than 3 months, ADT announced. This comes amidst financial challenges, with the company's stock...
Why Vivint / Best Buy Failed on Aug 31, 2018
DIY has bested Vivint. In 2017, Best Buy and Vivint partnered with Vivint employees on the floor of 400+ Best Buy stores, helping customers with...
JCI / Napco Integration Battle on Aug 30, 2018
JCI and Napco are firing salvos at each other over integration issues which both sides blame on the other. The bigger problem is that central...

Most Recent Industry Reports

Alexa Guard Expands Amazon's Security Offerings, Boosts ADT's Stock on Sep 21, 2018
Amazon is expanding their security offerings yet again, this time with Alexa Guard that delivers security audio analytics and a virtual "Fake...
UTC, Owner of Lenel, Acquires S2 on Sep 20, 2018
UTC now owns two of the biggest access control providers, one of integrator's most hated access control platforms, Lenel, and one of their...
BluePoint Aims To Bring Life-Safety Mind-Set To Police Pull Stations on Sep 20, 2018
Fire alarm pull stations are commonplace but police ones are not. A self-funded startup, BluePoint Alert Solutions is aiming to make police pull...
SIA Plays Dumb On OEMs And Hikua Ban on Sep 20, 2018
OEMs widely pretend to be 'manufacturers', deceiving their customers and putting them at risk for cybersecurity attacks and, soon, violation of US...
Axis Vs. Hikvision IR PTZ Shootout on Sep 20, 2018
Hikvision has their high-end dual-sensor DarkfighterX. Axis has their high-end concealed IR Q6125-LE. Which is better? We bought both and tested...
Avigilon Announces AI-Powered H5 Camera Development on Sep 19, 2018
Avigilon will be showcasing "next-generation AI" at next week's ASIS GSX. In an atypical move, the company is not actually releasing these...
Favorite Request-to-Exit (RTE) Manufacturers 2018 on Sep 19, 2018
Request To Exit devices like motion sensors and lock releasing push-buttons are a part of almost every access install, but who makes the equipment...
25% China Tariffs Finalized For 2019, 10% Start Now, Includes Select Video Surveillance on Sep 18, 2018
A surprise move: In July, when the most recent tariff round was first announced, the tariffs were only scheduled for 10%. However, now, the US...
Central Stations Face Off Against NFPA On Fire Monitoring on Sep 18, 2018
Central stations are facing off against the NFPA over what they call anti-competitive language in NFPA 72, the standard that covers fire alarms....
Hikvision USA Starts Layoffs on Sep 18, 2018
Hikvision USA has started layoffs, just weeks after the US government ban was passed into law. Inside this note, we examine: The important...

The world's leading video surveillance information source, IPVM provides the best reporting, testing and training for 10,000+ members globally. Dedicated to independent and objective information, we uniquely refuse any and all advertisements, sponsorship and consulting from manufacturers.

About | FAQ | Contact