The Cheapest School District Ever?

Author: IPVM Team, Published on Sep 16, 2013

Many complain about local governments picking cheap surveillance solutions. Well, it does not get any cheaper than this. Used iPhones, iPods and iPads watch over the halls and entry points of Arizona's Miami School District. The devices have been in place for three weeks, and there are plans to expand the network, and the school has not spent a dime on them. We talked to the superintendent about how they decided that iPhones were more cost effective than traditional surveillance.

Background

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Donated ************The district has no plans to purchase used iOS devices for the system. Instead, they are asking the public to donate old ones. The system started with five devices and will expand as they are received.

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Comments (25)

Free phones hanging on the wall!!

It's a great idea for a free home system. I don't think it should ever be considered in what should be an enterprise enviornment. From what was described in the video, someone is tasked with maintaining the video constantly. The time savings in maintenance/IT support would pay for themselves during the first 3 years of a typical support contract from any true video surveillance system.

Redneck Surveillance at it's finest!

However, both my iPhone and my iPad record video in Quicktime format - which is pretty large. When I share videos, I almost always have to convert them to .avi via Any Video Converter to reduce the size to make them sendable.

For instance - I have a 10 sec clip (w/audio) with little movement in the FOV that comes out to 16MB, but I have a 1 min clip (also w/audio) with significant movement in the FOV that comes out to over 120MB.

Rounding down to approx 100MB/min, with 5 devices in play that translates to about 4 minutes of recording for each device to max out the 2GB Presence cap. Plus, you state that:

"A Presence Pro subscription only comes with 2GB of cloud storage for storing motion alerts." Will Presence record to the cloud for full time recording during the day?

I'm sure they can download clips daily.... but depending on the internal storage (4GB - 64GB) each device will max out their capacity at some point (some within an hour). The administators would have to delete storage from each device when it fills up before it will let them record anything further. How do they accomplish that? Sounds like a whole lot of ladder climbing.

Also, even Apple's own iCloud fills up after you've maxed out the device with storage, and will constantly tell you so every time it tries to back stuff up (which is often) with a pop-up on your screen. How would that affect the recorded video?

And what happens when the app crashes or the phone decides to reboot. Does a janitor have to run around the building weekly to power cycle and launch the app?

As for storage, the superintendent said they had some kind of setup where the video was downloaded and stored each day. I asked, and she didn't go into detail. She did say the footage is being kept indefinitely until they decide on what storage rules/limits they are going to apply and how long the system can store footage on its own. Some parts of this whole thing haven't actually been decided yet. I do hope it's not someone getting up on a ladder every day though.

Maybe as a supplement to a real surveillance system but never as "this is what we have." It is a pretty clever solution but I would amazed if they ever get any useable video from it during an event.

I gotta say, kudos to them for doing this at basically no cost.

A couple thoughts on this:

  • Depending on what their main use for this is, low light may not be a big issue: if they're mainly wanting to keep an eye on student activities during the day, things will be well-lit the whole time. If their primary concern is to capture break-ins and night-time vandalism and such, well, then it's a problem...
  • I doubt the app would be sending full-size Quicktime movies over the network; remember with phones especially, they're sending video over 3G networks, with limited bandwidth and data caps. I didn't find anything that states specifically what codec is being used, but would expect the system uses 3GPP or similar low-bandwidth format for its cloud-stored data.
  • The need to power the phones is a minimal concern: ALL cameras need to be powered. It's a little less convenient to need an AC outlet nearby, but I've seen "real" security cameras powered off local wall-warts plugged into an extension cord, too. Look at it this way: these have the ability to keep running on battery power, for at least a couple hours, even if AC power is lost.
  • FOV is a valid concern, but not earth-shattering considering most low-end CCTV cameras also have fixed FOVs, that are often narrower than these would provide.
  • You're also going to get far higher resolution than an analog system, even with older devices.

I'd say the biggest concern would be whether the app needs to be restarted after a phone reboot, but even there, is it not possible to make an app run at startup on iOS? If it's the only app running, I'd say chances of crashing are low (say what you will, iOS is extremely stable), and again, you'd have to lose power for quite a while before the internal batteries gave out, especially if the app can run without the screen being on, as that's by far the biggest power draw on any smartphone or tablet.

Anyway, props for creativity and cost-consciousness. If they'd actually spent money on this solution, that would REALLY be LOL-worthy, but considering they appear to have put it together for almost nothing... credit where it's due.

There's still a lot of labor involved, both in coordinating all of this and in supporting this going forward.

Are they really sending video over 3G. If so, that means they are paying monthly fees per device. I thought they were using WiFi which means they could overload the school's network. Either way, it is a real risk.

Then there's the risk of missing storage / video for real events because of this bizarre recording setup.

If you want to go cheap, just get someone to buy a 16 channel Costco system, no???

That's correct. They aren't using 3G, they're using the school's wireless network.


I would certainly expect them to be using WiFi.... my point was that the software is designed to work over 3G, meaning relatively low bandwidth requirements.

And yes there's labour involved, but I doubt it's costing them $85 per hour per tech. More likely it was done after-hours by a couple staffers and some members of the A/V club. Using completely donated hardware and software, it's still a helluva lot cheaper than even the cheapest Costco system.

As far as the risk of missing something... I suppose the "better than nothing" theory applies.

I'm not saying this is the future of CCTV, I'm just saying, points for making it all happen with practically zero budget. A lot of places would have looked at the cost and simply decided to do without.

If you can get people to donate iOS devices that still clearly have resale value, I'd imagine they could get people to donate money for a $599 costco kit.

Seriously, they'd be better off taking in the donated iPhones and iPads, sell them on the Internet and then using the proceeds to buy even an entry level surveillance kit.

This solution is also extremely vulnerable to vandalism. You can see exactly where the camera is pointed. Most people either have an iphone or know someone who does so they'll know the field of view. It will be easy for High School and Middle School kids to get out of the FoV and take these things out fairly simply. John has the best idea so far, sell it and buy at least a Fisher Price Costco system, at least you'll have something reliable.

I agree about the vandalism issue - also theft will be a big risk. While IP cameras have little use to kids, a still functional smartphone or tablet does.

I think everyone here is being very harsh.

They are just desiging and building out their system based on "push video" in Milestone or Genetec.

Sheer brilliance and outside the box thinking.

One more thing I just thought of, who is installing the 110vac needed at every single camera location? I doubt they have an electrician on staff who can do that.

This string is making my head hurt... :(

I am an avowed 'crazy idea' person. I enjoy pushing the limits of acceptable norms and finding unique ways of doing things. Nothing bores me more than being like everyone else.

So... I am hard-wired to favor innovative solutions.

But 'crazy ideas' always have to be run against a practicality check. This is where 99% of mine fall to the wayside.

Repurposing existing (or donated) components to 'save money' is a commendable effort. This 'solution' was derived almost exclusively because the school district didnt have the money to pay what they learned it would cost for a traditional surveillance install. But does this 'solution' accomplish that?

No it doesn't. It just shifts/defers the capex they don't have ($$ for traditional surveillance) into opex that they do have (salaried or hourly employee wages).

====================

How many man hours per week are spent maintaining this set-up?

How long does it take - every day - to download and delete files from each device when it fills up with video?

How do they even know when a device is full and needs to have it's storage downloaded to another device so it can continue to record?

How do they know if the recording app crashes on a device and needs a reboot?

No integration with access control or any other school systems.

No alerting beyond the ill-defined 'motion events' mentioned after hours.

====================

This 'innovative idea' will end up costing this school more. Even if they hire no new people to cover all the man hours required to operate and maintain this system, the hours spent doing so by existing employees are not spent doing other things. The things these people were hired to do.

But they will probably still 'be happy with' the set-up because they thought of it. But mainly because there is no line item that has to be signed off on that shows the actual costs of having this 'solution'... :(

Well said.

cheap yes but inovative thinking 'out of the box' ABSOLUTELY... repurposing technology is way better than filling our landfills up with toxic metals and plastic.

way to go..

A cheap way to go..... I agree certainly isn't a better way to go if cost is a factor.

But a great case study on what might be done and the industry would do well to pay attention. It might fall on it's face, but they might also make some interesting findings.

Regarding the power to each device, since all they need is the 'USB' 5v, they could consder using Passive POE, depending on how far away the Passive PSE is. Passive POE is very inexpensive (<$20 for both ends) but it does have length limitation depending on the network cable used.

In case you are not familiar with this sort of POE... think of it as a extension cord for the wall wart that uses the network cable as the cord.

Since they are not using the network side and they are already buying power converters and installing 110AC, this may be a good idea. I even ran across a company that makes a kit for this for $25. ( I am not affiliated with this company in any way ).

I also watched the referenced video and saw that the quality of the video was very poor, so being able to distinguish individuals will not be easy to do.

Sure, this is not a perfect solution based on what many of us work with daily, but is sure is inexpensive.If the school gets what it needs from it despite all its drawbacks, then good for them. Only time will tell.

Their fire alarm system:

Redneck Fire Alarm

hahaha love that one!

Looks like iPad/iPhone security cameras may become a thing now. Another start-up called Manything just released a similar app with more features. No school districts have adopted this (that I know of)

Features that Prescence doesn't have:

  • Uses flash to take images at night when there is sound activation
  • All footage is stored in the cloud
  • Automatically enhances low-light stills
  • Jump straight to alerts without having to search through footage
  • While in Beta, it comes with 30 days of storage for free

Might be something for Miami School District to look at when they're ready for an upgrade.

Right after I posted that, I got a press release from ANOTHER company, dated today, doing the same thing.

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