School Surveillance System On Life Support

By: Carlton Purvis, Published on Mar 17, 2014

It might be time for a new system. After a decade, this school is finding it hard to keep hundreds of cameras running.

In just the last three months, at least two incidents would have been recorded if the cameras were working. One was an altercation between a student and a teacher. The other was a fight between two students. In both cases no one knew the cameras were broken until Tuscaloosa City Schools administrators wanted the footage.

This led to questions for Jeff Johnson, executive director of facilities, the department overseeing camera maintenance. We talked to Johnson about the cameras and why even basic repairs sometimes take as long as three months to complete.

** ***** ** **** for * *** ******. After * ******, **** ****** is ******* ** **** to **** ******** ** cameras *******.

** **** *** **** three ******,** ***** *** ********* would **** **** ********** *** ******* **** working. *** *** ** altercation ******* * ******* and * *******. *** other *** * ***** between *** ********. ** both ***** ** *** knew *** ******* **** broken ***** ********** **** ******* administrators ****** *** *******.

**** *** ** ********* for **** *******, ********* director ** **********, *** department ********** ****** ***********. ** talked ** ******* ***** the ******* *** *** even ***** ******* ********* take ** **** ** three ****** ** ********.


***** ** ***** ** reported **** ****** “**-** percent” ** *** ******* in *** **-****** ****** were *** *******. **** school *** ** ******* on *******. 

The *******

*** ****** ** ***** a ***** ****** (******* and ***) *** *** unable ** ****** *** exact ******. *** ****** cameras **** ********* ** years ***. *** ****** are ***** ***** ***.

** **** *** ****** of ******* **** ****** the ****** ****** ** 15-20 ******* ********* ******* of *** *** ** the ****** *** **** lightning ******* *** ****** which *** ****** **** round ******* *****.

“**** ******* ** *** be ** ******* ****, but ***** ******* ** may ** * *******, but ** ********** ******* you **** **** ******* so ****’* * ***,” he ****.

********** ******* **** **** less ********* ***** ******* need ** ** ******** so **** *** **** likely ** **** * reason ** **** ****. Johnson’s ********** **** ******** for ******* ***** **** per ***** **** ****** administrators *** **** ***** three ****** **** ****** investigating ********* **** ****** near ****** ********.

** **** ***** *** requests **** ******* *** false ****** **** ***** animals.

“** **** *** ******* that **** ** ****** and **** ** ** see **,” ** ****. “We’ll **** ** ***** go *** ** ***** between ** *** * am *** ** **** that **’* * ***** or * *** ** the ********. **** **** come ** * *** of *****. *** ********** have ** ****** *** alarms *** **** *** police *** *****.”

*** *** ********* ** actual *********** *** ** the ****** *** *** to ************ * *********** plan **** ******** * monthly ****** ***** ** all *******.


***, **** ***** ************** are ******** ** ***** and **** *** ******. They *** ******** *** sent ** *** ***** contractor *********** *** ***********. They *** **** * log ** *** ******. In *** **** **** would **** **** ******** to *** **********, *** there *** ** *** of ******** ******* ****** to **** *** ****** in ********* ******* ** camera ******.

*** ****** *** ******* on *** ***** ******* sometimes **** *******. ***** gears **** *****, *** repairs *** **** ** these ******* *** **** as **** ** ***** months.

“**** ******** ** *** *** years *** ***** *** be * ***** **** anymore, ** ** ***** have ** **** **** the ************. ********* **’* just * ***** ****," he ****.

*********** ******* *** **** as **** ** $**** for *** ******* **** and $***-$*** *** *** models ***** **** ****** the *******.

*** **** ** ******** maintenance ****** **** ******* in *******, *** *** post ************ ************ *********** ******** Revealed.

System ********

******* **’* **** ** overhaul *** ******, *** has ** *** ******* and *********** **** ******* *** only ***** ** *** last *** *****. *** school ****** ***** ** move ** * ******* server (********* **** ** the ** ******* *** its ***) *** *** cameras **** * ****** pixel *****, ** ****.

“***** *** * *** more ******* *** ***** than ***** ***. **’** going ** **** *** cameras **** ******* * better *******, ****** ***** counts *** ****** ***** and *** ******** ** much **** ******** *** that ******* **,” ** ****. The ********* **** ** an ******** ** $* million.

*** ***, ******, **** will ******** ** ******* the ***** ********* ** they ****.

Comments (15)


1) The lack of working lightening supression is inexcusable. It's not as though lightening supression technology was invented after this system was installed.

2) An Optex VX-402Ri for the outdoor cameras and any number of pet-immune PIRs for the indoor cameras would clear their false alarm problems right up, and I bet the principals and the police would be grateful.

3) Unless they went with Coaxitron and are limited to a very few models because there is only coax and power wired to the camera, there's no excuse for paying $2,800 for a PTZ when a certain photography store website with which I am familiar sells perfectly good Bosch 5000 series AutoDomes for just over $1,400. And if the DVR only accepts Bi-Phase, well, Bosch makes a Bi-Phase to standard adapter- that photography store website I mentioned earlier sells them for $132.50.

Also, I hope everyone learns a lesson here about the stupidity of buying anything proprietary. I'd rather spend more to get a universal unit that pay a lot less and be stuck with useless equipment because the company decided to stop making a $5 adapter.

4) Sometimes, repairing a system costs more time and effort than it's worth, and tearing everything out and starting over is the cheapest option.

Possible 'now' considerations, waiting a larger resolve. Minimal expense? Results may assist a final solution.

Ongoing hardware problems: Software, MS Shell, LINUX, on a PC to (daily? Or?) start a camera and sample results, with error codes to a log. Sequence to next camera. Filter the log to generate a human look for a dispatch and physical check/repair.

Off hour hits generate calls to...

Inject software to take the trigger and Only send an alert to Responsible Official (no change) while identifying related area cameras for said official to access/sample same for possible intrusion and subsequent dispatch to Police etc. if necessary.

JAT. Just a thought.

Cal, I don't understand what you said, mainly because it's a combination of sentence fragments and run-on sentences.

I love Cal's responses. They're like surveillance themed fortune cookies.

What I think he's saying is to examine the error log to see which cameras are problematic. I don't think that's necessary, because using my mind reading skills, I will tell you what is problematic, without even looking at the system. A complete list of problematic components, including components about to fail, is as follows, in alphabetical order:


Cal's other point, that they should just stop letting the system alert the cops, is probably more practical, although I don't know how you "inject software" on a DVR.

Fortune cookies. Great. You know the best two? "That wasn't chicken". And "that last fortune cookie you got... Was a lie".

Mind reading skills. That is really good. Cute but no cigar.

Tell me what I'm thing of that response at this moment.

Quoting the original:


Now, each month administrators are supposed to login and look for issues. They are compiled and sent to the local contractor responsible for maintenance. They now keep a log of all issues. In the past they would only send requests to the contractor, but there was no way of tracking ongoing issues to look for trends in equipment failure or camera status..

Key words. "there was no way of tracking ongoing issues to look for trends in equipment failure or camera status".

I was responding to those.

As to "I don't know how you "inject software" on a DVR." I guess sometimes ignorance is bliss.

Somehow the Official and Police are alerted. However that is started. A phone call or a separate alarm system is an opportunity to 'capture/inject' etc. Follow me Ari. We could make a good team. :-()

Well darn John. :-( Maybe someone else will. :-) I went to a technical High School. English wasn't required to understand the visual drawings.

Also wasn't required when offered a Staff position for Test Access in a Major Communication Company.

Sometimes the English wizzes are just that and don't know the trenches. Works both ways. Bottom line is having a dialog to get to a resolve. :-)

Thanks for asking.

I 'see' an opportunity to use a PC with programming tools to start a camera, sample the results for error codes etc. (daily or?) and file to a log. A Spread sheet? Then use the spread sheet tools to filter and identify problems. Those problems can reviewed by a human and then set for dispatch.

A 'quick' temporary solution? Leading to?

There are a few tools available to do same. A PC with MS Power Shell. A PC with 'CGWin', a free UNIX like software. A PC running a LINUX operating system. Where one can build some 'If, Then, Else' statements. Don't know MAC but it seems there may be some tools there also.

If (time) start camera. If error code(s). Then file to log. Else start next camera etc.

After hours. Intercept the trigger that initiates calls to responsible officials and Police dispatch. Just send the camera information along with near by area camera info for the Official to sample further intrusion before deciding a police dispatch. Result. Minimal Police dispatch.

I 'see' an opportunity to use a PC with programming tools to start a camera, sample the results for error codes etc. (daily or?) and file to a log. A Spread sheet? Then use the spread sheet tools to filter and identify problems. Those problems can reviewed by a human and then set for dispatch.

How? This is a Bosch DVR and analog camera we're talking about here, I doubt there's an available SDK.

There are a few tools available to do same. A PC with MS Power Shell. A PC with 'CGWin', a free UNIX like software. A PC running a LINUX operating system. Where one can build some 'If, Then, Else' statements. Don't know MAC but it seems there may be some tools there also.

Are you talking about getting a capture card with an SDK, plugging the camera into a PC running Cygwin (which is what I think you mean), and using the log to help you diagnose the problem? Why?

Even if it were possible to run Cygwin or something on the DVR, logging the video losses will in no way help. Logging and tracking down video loss was something we could have done five or six years ago, because five or six years ago was about the last time when saving this system makes sense. Trying to repair this system is like trying to add more RAM to your computer running Windows ME. The problem isn't this specific issue you have, the problem is that the entire system is composed of suck, and fixing one component isn't going to help.

Every surveillance system has a certain baseline level of suck, and the point of system maintenance is to, hopefully, find and eliminate suck when it pops up, or, at the very least, stop the suck from spreading too fast. When the entire system is infected with suck, it's too late. It's like lawn maintenance, if you cut the grass and pull up your weeds one Sunday a month, you should be okay, but if you just let it grow for a little while, your backyard is going to get overgrown until the only solution is to burn down the house and move.

Diagnosing all the problems, repairing what can be repaired, and replacing what must be replaced, is going to cost them waaaay more than starting over will, and will get them a functional and useful surveillance system in a reasonable amount of time. The only advantage to trying to repair the system is it can be done slowly over time, and $25,000 a month forever hurts less than a million dollars once a decade.

But someone should try and explain to these people the concept of cutting you losses. Cal, I think you're focusing on the trees so hard you didn't notice the forest.

Cal has apparently stumbled into an Inter-thread wormhole, his response to you can be found here. (Until the wormhole collapses... ;)

That was amazing.

Sounds like another case where they either didn't anticipate the level of ongoing maintenance costs or did not budget for it.

To me the bigges crime is trying to use camera side motion detection in outdoor use. Given the age of the system maybe that was when "analytics" were still a lot of hype, and added to that someone didn't realize the difference between real analytics and basic activity detection and though they were the same...?

This is often the case at any school of any level.

Many have a low or zero budget for operational maintenance. Some have no staffing for operational support.

I would say that other than places that have a righ ROI on surveillance or very high risk (bank, casino, etc.), between broken or otherwise inoperable cameras and systems, and lighting and angles, there is only a small chance that the camera is of any real use.

Yup. it's a shame. You can save lots of money by skipping oil changes, too.

A network monitoring platform might make sense.......To manage the health of all the devices and alert and alarm as necessary.

Like Nagios? We use Nagios to monitor thousands of network, server, security and other devices.

Since knowing is 1/2 the battle (GI Joe), then a lot of places don't want 24/7 monitoring of devices that they don't have the staff nor funding to fix. This is true for just about any organization and for both physical and network security. Once you "know" something is broken, and do nothing, then you might become "negligent".

Some places will actually remove either the monitoring or the end devices so that they don't have to support them.

Budget crunches affect every organization.

Michael.......That is sad, but you are right. And then there are companies who do want the information and have the staff to untilize it. I work for Vunetrix, its an option in the industry.

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