School District Increases Safety and Reduces its Carbon Footprint

South Carolina schools install a system of video surveillance cameras that operate in low light, allowing a “campus blackout” strategy to deter vandalism and save energy

The Rock Hill School District in South Carolina was looking to upgrade its video surveillance system while aligning with its efforts to save energy. Sustainability is an important part of the overall strategy in Rock Hill because it not only saves taxpayer money, but also reduces the school system’s carbon footprint. Toward this end, Rock Hill Schools employs a full-time energy systems manager, Kim Melander.

“With every project, we measure the energy consumption and report to school board and administration,” Melander said. “We’re always looking for the best application with best efficiency.”

A team of Rock Hill administrators determined that a “campus blackout” approach was effective in deterring crime and saving energy.

“We worked with local law enforcement, school administrators, our energy manager and our safety director, looking at technical solutions for our campus,” said Anthony Cox, deputy superintendent for the Rock Hill Schools. "It turns out that the requirement to keep lights on all the time to deter crime is actually somewhat of a myth. A lot of research says that keeping the lights turned off will lower the crime rate in an area.”


The quality of video footage on a dark campus can be an issue. While a blackout policy may reduce crime, it also decreases the effectiveness of traditional surveillance technology to identify perpetrators. Thus, the challenge for Rock Hill was to find a video surveillance system that could operate effectively with high image quality on a dark campus.

Axis Communications’ Axis Lightfinder technology enables surveillance cameras to produce high-resolution, color images in extremely low light. Incorporating a CMOS sensor with exceptional light sensitivity, cameras that offer Axis’ Lightfinder can deliver sharp, clear color images in as little light as 0.18 lux (and sometimes less).

“Getting a clear visual image, being able to capture that person’s face and send it to school administrators for identification, that works perfectly to identify the perpetrator,” said Kevin Wren, director of risk security emergency management for Rock Hill Schools.

“The system that had the best crime-deterring capability was also very good with sustainability,” Cox said. “Safety is first but efficiency is also very important for the taxpayer. Every dollar you’re spending on the operational side, you’re not spending on the academic side. We very much want to keep our cash in the classroom.”

In environments with extreme lighting challenges, Rock Hill Schools can still use less LED lighting to meet their efficiency goals. For these areas, the security system uses Axis Optimized IR embedded on PoE cameras. This allows the IR illuminator capabilities inside the camera to draw from the same power source while enhancing image usability in near complete darkness. Without it, the system could need additional illumination that would require more energy and could reveal the camera’s field of view to potential intruders.

In addition to providing video surveillance, the access control system in Rock Hill sends alarms when doors are open for an extended period of time or if a gate hasn’t been closed. A technician can remotely access those cameras, see who’s opening the door and determine if a response is necessary.

Approximately 1,000 cameras from the AXIS P-Series and M-Series were installed throughout the school system. A large majority of the cameras were dome models, which offer a panoramic view of the surveillance area. Many of them feature day/night functionality that provides high-resolution color imagery during hours of darkness.

“We’ve gone from two dozen cameras at our secondary schools to hundreds of cameras in an integrated system that allows us to keep tabs on our campus, keeping our students, parents, staff and our community a little safer,” Cox said.


By installing a system with Lightfinder technology and OptimizedIR, Rock Hill Schools was able to maintain its “campus blackout” approach without sacrificing safety and security. In fact, the security of the school buildings has been enhanced, with a lower number of incidents reported.

At the same time, the school system realized significant electrical savings and reduced its lighting budget.

The Rock Hill School District has 27 schools and several support buildings. In terms of lighting costs, Melander estimates that the campus blackout policy can save approximately $3,500 for an elementary school, $7,000 for a middle school and up to $10,000 for a high school.

In addition, all security equipment is designed to be as energy-efficient as possible, further augmenting the school district’s policy to maximize sustainability whenever possible.

This article originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of Campus Security Today.

About the Author

James Marcella is the director of technical services for Axis Communications.


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