School Video Surveillance Guide

By Brian Rhodes, Published May 26, 2015, 12:00am EDT

This 13-page in-depth guide explains the key uses, drivers, factors and players in K-12 school video surveillance systems.

A global group of 80 integrators experienced in selling and implementing education surveillance systems answered these questions.

Questions Answered

(1) Camera Locations

Where are the most important locations to deploy cameras? How do they differ, if any, from primary schools to middle schools to high schools?

(2) Classroom Cameras

How often do you deploy cameras inside of classrooms? Why or why not?

(3) Cameras Used

What camera manufacturers do you use most often in K-12? What, if any camera manufacturers, do schools tend to favor?

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(4) VMSes Used

What VMS / recorder do you use most often in K-12? What, if any VMS / recorders, do schools tend to favor?

(5) Cost Considerations

How important is low cost for the schools you deal with? Please share any examples of rough pricing for schools (e.g., 50 cameras, $50,000 total cost). 

(6) Buying Decision Maker

Who typically makes the purchasing decision in K-12? IT? Security? Facilities? Other?

(7) Integration

How often is the school surveillance system integrated with access, intrusion or fire? Why or why not do schools choose to do this?

(8) Remote Access

How often is remote access provided for school employees or for the police? How is this typically done?

(9) Biggest Problem

What is the biggest problem you have in your school surveillance projects?

Our survey uncovered some general truths about K-12 surveillance use, regardless of region, country, or system size:

  1. The most important monitoring locations for schools are primary entry/exits. In general, the outside perimeter of the building is a priority, with interior 'common areas' like libraries, cafeterias, and hallways next.
  2. Cameras are 'seldom to never' installed in classrooms.  Student privacy and teacher unions are cited as the most common objections to the practice.
  3. Purchasing premium camera and VMS brands were fairly common. Even with tight budgets, schools typically avoid risky 'no-name' brands, and extended service and support is almost always a requirement.
  4. When it comes to VMS platforms, the market is considerably fragmented. The most well-known platforms were cited roughly half the time, but second-tier solutions still have widespread adoption and composed the other half of responses.
  5. Many schools use bidded purchasing, where price is always a big factor. However, most schools will pay a premium to avoid risk, even if it means writing specs that deliberately favor particular, well-supported high-end brands. 
  6. Product selection is usually a joint decision, with final approval by a school board.  While the members of the selection teams vary, IT departments are almost always included in the decision-making process.
  7. Surveillance system integration with other systems happens 'rarely' to 'never'. The majority of responses mentioned the cost and complexity is typically too great for the benefit.
  8. Configuring remote access is fairly common, but is typically limited to school employees. Giving access to police or other outside agencies happens but is atypical.
  9. The biggest problem most schools face with their surveillance systems include: 'budget funding', 'setting correct performance expectations', and 'too many stakeholders in decisions'.

The nine survey questions are examined in depth below:

Camera Locations

Question: Where are the most important locations to deploy cameras? How do they differ if any, from primary schools to middle schools to high schools?

Summary:  The most important monitoring locations for schools are primary entry/exits. In general, the outside perimeter of the building is a priority, with interior 'common areas' like libraries, cafeterias, and hallways next.

In general, the more advanced grade schools use more cameras.  High schools typically have higher camera counts than elementary schools. This is due in part to additional areas like parking lots, athletic facilities, and 'blindspot' awareness causing increased coverage needs.

Interdicting 'student-on-student violence' is a motivating factor for surveillance in higher grades, while parent identification and administrative accountability of students is the biggest goal for lower grades.

Entries

  • "For pre/post-incident coverage, primary entrances are top-priority in any building. They are the choke points that >90% of people will pass through."
  • "The most important places for the primary schools are front doors and all enters/exits of the building. "
  • "We see that primary schools want coverage mostly on entrance/exits while the middle and high schools will cover hallways as well."
  • "All entryways are the most important at all levels."

Common Areas/Playgrounds

  • "It starts out with places like library bag racks/admin/halls. Then progresses to the open areas like quadrangles and then they start chasing the trouble spots and hidden corners."
  • "Most incidents appear to be in common areas and hallways from what we see here."
  • " In the k-12 market the prime locations for cameras are any vestibules as well as any locations where students go outside for recess."
  • "Playground, it is for liability purposes."

Hallways

  • "Hallways. Most incidents occur in crowded hallways or during lunch periods."
  • "Corridors, between classes or before/after school is a big surveillance need."

Parking Lots

  • "High schools are really concerned about parking lot coverage. "
  • "Grades 9 and up: Much heavier focus on parking lots. This is one place where we still use a lot of PTZs."
  • "High Schools - add parking lots to the list"
  • "Student parking areas are where some crimes and violence occur."

Classroom Cameras

Question: How often do you deploy cameras inside of classrooms? Why or why not?

Summary: Installing cameras inside actual classes happens 'seldom' to 'never', with most citing student teacher union policy and tight budgets as the main factors:

Privacy/Regulations/Budget

  • "We never deploy cameras inside classrooms. Privacy!"
  • "Almost never. We have legislation against it."
  • "VERY rarely. Most teacher unions will not allow it.
  • "Typically we do not deploy cameras in classrooms because of budget."
  • "Very rarely. Seen as an invasion of privacy or not required."
  • "There have never been any classroom deployments to this point. It is more of a teacher contractual issue then a student privacy issue. As a former teacher, I would welcome the camera in the classroom, but unions and under-performing teachers prevent that."
  • "Schools generally want thousands of cameras, but have the funding to buy a minimum amount, and individual classrooms are low on the list of funded cameras."
  • "Our schools do not have the money for cameras in the classes."

However, those that do report installing classroom cameras did so in areas that store high-value assets like computer labs or dual-purpose common areas.  Examples of the general feedback include:

  • "The only exceptions are computer labs and libraries. "
  • "Never, but Gyms, Auditoriums, Cafeterias and Media Centers often are used as flex spaces and could be viewed as classrooms at times."
  • "We had one instance where a district wanted them inside the computer lab, but no general classrooms."
  • "Never unless it's a computer classroom or an open learning area (OLA)."

Camera Manufacturers

Question: What camera manufacturers do you use most often in K-12? What, if any camera manufacturers, do schools tend to favor?

Summary: Premium camera brands are fairly common. Decisions do not always favor 'budget lines' representing cheap solutions. However the following sentiment was common:

  • "As cameras closer to each other in image quality, price becomes a more important factor. Overall, the big names still rule in quasi-government jobs." 

Of all brands, Axis was mentioned most often (about 50% of all answers mentioned them), but names like Avigilon, Panasonic, and Samsung were common too:

Axis 

  • "We tend to favor Axis. The white papers and corridor format really sell them."
  • "Axis is our number one by far, that is what we like to install."
  • "We primarily use Axis for maximum flexibility and compatibility for the future."
  • "AXIS Communications. Typically the K-12 environment is looking for the longest possible warranty on their cameras."
  • "Axis is our number one by far, that is what we like to install"
  • "We primarily use Axis for maximum flexibility and compatibility for the future"

Avigilon

  • "Avigilon was requested and deployed."
  • "Most specs we see are based on Avigilon."
  • "We're now an Avigilon partner, so that's what we've used since"
  • "Avigilon, and [more] Avigilon"

Panasonic

  • "Here the oldest integrator is a Panasonic dealer so they have the greatest footprint.
  • "Panasonic most often deployed."
  • "Panasonic, they are the best option for us."

Samsung

  • "Because schools are on a budget and most of the opportunity has to be bid out, we have been having success with Samsung."
  • "We tend to use Axis and Samsung as we have both of these available on contracts so that a bid does not have to used."
  • "Axis has always been the camera of choice with schools, but we are starting to migrate to Samsung for pricing reasons."

Multiple Brands

However, many responses suggested they typically have several options they regularly use. Those mentioning specific brands included:

  • "Samsung, Panasonic, Dahua. We tend to sell Panasonic."
  • "Advidia, Pelco, Axis, and Sony are the ones most often seen."
  • "We typically use Hikvision but have used other manufacturers such as Honeywell if the customer is willing to pay for it."
  • "Axis and Samsung: 75% Axis, 25% Samsung"
  • "Pelco, Axis, and Samsung"
  • "March, Mobotix and Arecont."
  • "We have deployed ACTi, Dahua and Axis. The schools do not seem to have any favorable brand."
  • "All over the map on this one. We try to use the best camera for the job. Tailoring the cameras capabilities to the application."

VMSes Used

Question: What VMS / recorder do you use most often in K-12? What, if any VMS or recording platforms do schools tend to favor? 

Summary: Overall, recording platform selection is more diverse than camera brands. Mainstream brands like Milestone, Exacq, Genetec, Avigilon are big, but no pronounced preference for any.  Surprisingly, 'school-centric' brands like Video Insight have no prevalence over other platforms.

  • "The schools we deal with tend to love Milestone. Milestone has stepped up their game over the past couple years."
  • "We mostly use Genetec and the schools tend to favor Genetec. Especially if they do access control, the idea of having the two bundled into one piece of software is what sells it."
  • "Milestone.... We have seen a lot of Genetec and Exacq as well."
  • "Exacq, Milestone, Avigilon. A lot of the razberi devices."

Apple-centric environments also play a factor, which tends to favor Exacq:

  • "Exacq. The native client for Apple MAC is very a great fit."
  • "Most of our deployments have been Exacq. The driving factor here is most of the school environments are Apple/MAC based."
  • "Exacq has done well, it's Apple compatibility has helped."
  • "Many schools need clients that can run on Apple or Windows. Exacq is good for this."

However, it is clear that the education vertical is fragmented, and many offerings also find success being adopted:

  • "We sell a lot of IPConfigure in schools."
  • "Our schools are using Lensec and Axis Camera Station mainly."
  • "Honeywell Rapid-eye DVR"
  • "TruVision Navigator 5.0"
  • "Salient VMS, even though it is old."
  • "Mobotix MxCC on QNAP NAS."
  • "NUUO Lite and Wavestore. Schools again look to us for guidance."

Cost Considerations

Question: How important is low cost for the schools you deal with? Please share any examples of rough pricing for schools (e.g., 50 cameras, $50,000 total cost).

Summary: Many schools use bidded purchasing, where price is always a big factor. However, most schools understand cheap is not always 'best'.  Purchasing priority is almost always given to reliability and incorporate multi-year service and maintenance contracts.

  • "While cost is certainly a concern, it is not always the primary concern. A full turn-key solution aimed at delivering "quality" video surveillance over a period of time is a viable sales strategy."
  • "Our best customer is one that has put in cheap stuff the first time around and found out that it doesn't last or the picture quality is crap. Then they start to in vest in value and quality. They are concerned with long reliable operating life and good service. You have to be prepared to put in place a three-year roll out plan for many projects."
  • "We do not sell on price. If they want low bid they get it from someone else. We see 50% of the bids we lose coming back to us to fix the systems after they are put in. Examples: Large district in IL with 1000+ cameras. we were beat out by almost 150k. They have now paid us almost 200k to give them a functioning system. "

However, even though many claimed quality trumps low price, not everyone agrees.  In fact, many suggest low price is the only factor they see matter:

  • "Very important and low bid is the only criteria 90+% of the time."
  • "Schools have no money so cost is the #1 factor, with the exception of a newly built school which is using money from other sources (ie federal govt is footing the bill)."
  • "Low cost is critical."
  • "I've seen schools buy some truly awful equipment because the electricians that bid it were low."
  • "Most schools have no budget for this."
  • "Since it's about public investments, price is always 20% below "normal" offers. Don't like to talk about price per camera ratio, because network and cabling tasks are getting half of this ratio at least."

Decision Makers

Question: Who typically makes the purchasing decision in K-12? IT? Security? Facilities? Other?

Summary: Product selection is usually a joint decision, with final approval by a school board.  While the members of the selection teams vary, IT almost always is asked to be a part of the selection group.

Committees Are Common

Many responses noted that buying decisions are made by a gathered group of stakeholders, typically representing many operational facets of the system:

  • "Facilities and purchasing. School Resource officers and principals are choosing camera locations."
  • "It can be a facilities director, IT director, security director or business manager depending upon the district."
  • "My experience is that the decision is made by a team consisting of facilities security and IT."
  • "Facilities and IT are our target group. If an SRO is present they typically only weigh in on the placement/desired views."

Board Approvals are Final

Others clearly stated that only getting the school board to sign off on the deal mattered, and the major selling effort was directed there or inside the bidding process boundaries:

  • "Bids are always run by the school board."
  • "Usually the board of education has a lot of input on what is purchased. Each school will request cameras that are needed for approval through the board."
  • "Head/ School Board office"
  • "School District and local councilmen decide which schools, school Principals and Security decide where in school they need to be placed.
  • "Generally it is administration such as superintendent."

The IT Department is Always There

In any case, one thing is clear: the information technology department is almost always a voice in the buying process:

  • "IT and the Board."
  • "Typically the task lands with IT whether they want it or not."
  • "Security and IT are heavily involved in the planning."
  • "Ultimately, the IT department becomes involved and will make the final decision."

However, several responses did indicate that some surveillance purchases come down to the approval of a single person, generally an officer or school manager:

  • "The Headmaster makes the decisions."
  • "The Facilities Director is the customer."
  • "Principals, everyone else has input only."
  • "Typically school Superintendents make the final call."

Integration

Question: How often is the school surveillance system integrated with access, intrusion or fire? Why or why not do schools choose to do this?

Summary: Surveillance integration with other systems happens 'rarely' to 'never'. Compatibility and cost are the biggest barriers.

  • "Rarely. Schools have little electronic access control and when those systems are put in, they're usually tendered out in different sections."
  • "We have never done this. I would say that the main reason is the fact that access and intrusion can be very rarely (if not never) found in a school environment. Even fire systems are so basic that such an integration would not be easily justified."
  • "We have had no requests for video integration with other systems. Most of the schools have a mix match of different systems in different buildings so it would not be easy without a major upgrade to the other systems."
  • "Rarely. Frankly, educators have issues with intrusion alarms and in most cases, though installed they are rarely used. Fire is simpler for them to manage if it is stand alone. Sometimes we do integrate with access control but it is very rare."

When integration does happen, it most often involves access control or intrusion alarm systems:

  • "Very often with access control, but not often enough in my opinion."
  • "I would say roughly 70% of the time the surveillance system is integrated with the access system and/or intrusion systems."
  • "We see this almost always. Most schools want to be able to know when doors are propped open and easily work through ways to better manage access to their buildings."
  • "Most often we have CCTV and intrusion, but are seeing more actual access control integration. We believe the biggest barrier to integrating to access control is who will be accepting responsibility for administering the system."

Remote Access

Question: How often is remote access provided for school employees or for the police? How is this typically done?

Summary: Configuring remote access is fairly common, but is typically limited to school employees. Giving access to police or other outside agencies is not typical. VPN access is generally the method used.

Typical for Staff 

  • "Remote (off site) access is restricted to a select few. Mainly administrators and building administrators."
  • "Remote access for police is not requested often, but it is for staff."
  • "Close to 100% of the time remote access is available.

Rarely for Police

  • "Amazingly, never for the police! We aren't in control of which employees get access, but they do not like the PD to see the cameras."
  • "There are no means currently in place for police remote access."
  • "Police are not supported as a general rule"
  • "I've only heard of (2) districts giving remote access to the police and they have issued a "memorandum of understanding" that includes guidelines in which the police can view video."
  • "Many schools discuss the option to give police access, but this only happens about 50% of the time due to the need to train the police on how to access, the various clients/software required, and the means of access (public IP or VPN)."

VPNs are Common

Of the various remote access methods available, most report VPNs are used to view video feeds from outside networks:

  • "Generally there is remote access for school administration via VPN."
  • "Remote access for employees is offered often via VPN or through a mobile client."
  • "Remote access for staff is either VPN to the network using a thick client, DDNS using a browser."
  • "Outside teams such as Police and other first responders is typically done via a VPN connections."

Biggest Problem

Question: What is the biggest problem you have in your school surveillance projects?

Summary: Diverse answers, but 'budget funding', 'setting correct expectations', and 'too many stakeholders in decisions' were the three most common.

Budget

Money always matters.  Getting the money secured for a system, or negotiating a system that fits the budget is the biggest problem:

  • "Cost is the biggest issue. Every school wants and needs many many cameras but budget it always an issue."
  • "Working to find a happy medium between the number of cameras "wanted" and the number of camera "needed."
  • "K-12 institutions typically want a Cadillac with the ability to purchase a Chevrolet."

Too Many Stakeholders

School surveillance is a big purchase, and it has many potential users. However, the more of these users given a seat at the purchasing table, the more difficult it is to please everyone:

  • "The delays in beginning due to many people wanting to be involved and all having their input- which is often pointless. Those involved think they know more about surveillance than we do. They are almost always a hindrance not a help."
  • "Too many interests are allowed input. When it is just us, admin and police it is easy. However, it usually turns into the required 3 of us plus athletics, transportation, academics, student services (cafeteria, book store, vending)and fine arts."
  • "Making sure all decision makers are satisfied with camera placements and views."

Unrealistic Expectations

Finally, the features, abilities, and ongoing cost of the surveillance system often is misunderstood. This means customer disappointments are a tough risk to manage, and ongoing training and education is key:

  • "Inexperienced Technology consultants, and school employees who expect CSI type results."
  • "The cameras don't see a magic amount of detail and have infinite zooming."
  • "Sometimes they receive a grant to install the system but do not budget any money in future years to keep the system up and running. Then a few years later they are upset that a camera is offline and didn't catch video of a fight/theft."

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