Increasing Security

Exploring the benefits of video and audio intercoms


HighCom Security Services, an Oakland, Calif.-based integrator, oversaw the security upgrades, beginning with a complete risk assessment. The first addition was a facilitywide security camera system.

The 12 Digital Watchdog surveillance cameras (four PTZ and eight fixed) monitor the parking lot, school entries and views of the street in front of the facility. Monitors in the congregation’s main and school offices let staff members view live video.

Soon after the cameras were installed, the congregation’s board of directors asked High- Com for suggestions on better securing the perimeter, as well as improving emergency communications and procedures.

Rody Rosenbaum, director of HighCom’s security systems division, created a solution letting the congregation keep exterior doors locked at all times, manage visitors and improve communications. The plan was largely based on video and audio intercoms from Aiphone Corp.

With the project now completed, fences and gates guide visitors to a rear parking lot and a double-door entry to the main facility. An Aiphone IS Series video intercom is mounted just outside the door.

“Congregation staff members access the building by entering codes into a keypad near the door,” Rosenbaum said. “Visitors, vendors and parents push a button on the video intercom to get the attention of office staff.”

There are four intercom master stations in the facility; one on the congregation’s executive director desk and another on the receptionist’s, as well as two more in the common areas of the main and school offices. Each station includes a 3.5-inch color LCD monitor and handset allowing office personnel to see and speak with visitors. The stations remotely unlock the door once a visitor has been approved for entry.

Audio intercoms were also installed to link classrooms to congregation and school offices.

“Before we finished the project teachers needing assistance had to leave the classroom and walk to the office,” Rosenbaum said.

Wall-mount handsets were installed in all 12 classrooms. Teachers can use the unit hands-free. Cat-5e cable links the handsets to the master station, which also powers the audio intercom system. Each classroom—and the social hall and kitchen—also have panic buttons. Pushing the button generates a prerecorded message heard throughout the facility. It contains a code phrase generating an immediate lockdown without overly frightening students. Rosenbaum said the buttons were placed under a clear plastic cover similar to those covering fire pulls so they couldn’t be accidentally pushed.

HighCom ran into a tricky problem during system installation. Existing conduits between the main office and the school were nearly full of cable for the cameras and other IT connections. That left no room for cables from all classrooms to the intercom’s master station near the main office. Tearing out ceilings and walls to run new conduits would have added costs and delays.

Rosenbaum said HighCom solved the problem by running the classroom cables to a room station control unit located in the school. From there, only one cable was needed to connect to the master station. The project stayed within budget and was completed within 15 days—including staff training.

The intercom system, with the addition of Aiphone speakers and horns, lets congregation staff share emergency messages throughout the facility, including the school play area, two patios, front entry, sanctuary, social hall and main lobby.

Eric Stone, Congregation Beth Jacob’s executive director at the time, said the new system met the goals set by the board of directors.

“Teachers, parents and congregation members have all responded very favorably to the system and entry procedures,” he said. “The mere existence of the system increases their sense of security and well being. It’s very easy for people to understand the system and to grasp its importance without raising unnecessary fear.”

Stone said the door entry system is used daily, but the emergency features have been practiced only during training and drills. Previously, those monthly drills required a congregation staff member to walk door-to-door to get classroom participation. The intercom system now allows simultaneous announcements.

Greg Sterling, the congregation’s past president and who still maintains responsibility for facility buildings and grounds, said the added video and audio intercoms have provided the tools and related procedures for responding to an emergency. In addition, the investments made security a higher priority and integral part of the congregation’s day-to-day tasks.

“Emergency communications and procedures are now imbedded in our daily operations,” he said.

This article originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of Campus Security Today.


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