Three Lessons about School Security

Three Lessons about School Security

Summit uncovers campus security from team at Newtown Public School District of Sandy Hook

While student safety is often revered as a top priority, it is not uncommon for incident response protocols to be overlooked until a situation that warrants action occurs. Regardless of how unlikely it may seem to have a severe scenario unfold on campus, schools should not bet on that off chance before investing in security measures that protect students and faculty.

With the tragedy that occurred in Sandy Hook Elementary School—and the immediate response to that incident with the complete buildout of video security across seven of the schools in the Newtown Public School District, including Sandy Hook—here are three lessons shared by Mark Pompano, director of security; and Carmella Amodeo, director of technology of Newtown, about safety preparedness and its importance on campus.

Invest In the Right Technology

Following the events that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, the Newtown School District had to move quickly to find a solution to fill their need for on premise video security. Through generous donations and grants, Newtown installed a combination of different surveillance systems to bring visibility of all school campuses to the forefront of security officers and faculty.

However, over time, the donated systems quickly showed signs of ineffectiveness and unreliability.

“Whenever a camera went down or footage was lost, it felt like a huge deal,” Pompano said. “Principals, campus security officers and faculty were dependent on video security systems to monitor school perimeters and ensure security on campus. Any gaps in visibility felt like we might be at risk of compromising student safety.”

While the donated systems provided a baseline layer of security immediately after the incident, it failed to meet the growing needs of IT and security staff at Newtown Public School District.

“We considered replacing the existing system with newer versions of the equipment and technology but were surprised to see how expensive the upgrade would be,” Amodeo said. “Not only did we have to replace the cameras that were failing regularly, we had to consider the costs of replacing the entire system, which included servers and video recorders. Those costs quickly added up and exceeded the portion of our school budget dedicated to campus security.”

After a series of vendor comparisons, Pompano and Amodeo chose Verkada. “Not only is the video security solution easy enough for non-technical users to manage, it also delivers new features and security updates automatically at no additional cost,” Pompano said. “Because the system gets better over time, it gives us the peace of mind that we’re always putting our best foot forward when it comes to protecting our students and faculty.”

With ambitious plans to upgrade video security across the district before the start of the new school year, a simple approach to installation was a huge benefit. With just a PoE connection, the cameras are brought online in moments and accessible on a centralized management platform.

Before the first bell of 2019, 490 cameras were deployed across all eight schools in the Newtown Public School District.

Final Takeaway

Video security technology is imperative to maintaining situational awareness across schools. It’s not something that is “good enough” if it works 75 percent of the time—it needs to reliably perform as expected. Do your research and thoughtfully evaluate your options.

Make School Safety a Shared Responsibility

With video security transitioning more from closed-circuit television systems to cloud-based solutions, ownership has experienced a similar transition from physical security teams to IT teams. Although the responsibility of school safety may vary across districts depending on the solution used, maintaining safety should be a shared responsibility amongst teachers, faculty and campus safety officers.

“We’re able to share camera access with authorized users at no additional cost. It is incredible that our team now has this powerful resource to see, share and respond to events in real-time. If an incident occurs and we need to share live footage quickly with local authorities, we’re also able to share view only access to cameras so they can quickly assess the situation,” Pompano said.

The benefits of an “all hands on deck” approach are clear, however it’s natural for the topic of student privacy to become a concern when it comes to video security. With the camera systems audit log feature, all activity is automatically logged so administrators have full visibility into user actions within the platform. “This makes it simple for me to pinpoint activity that falls outside of normal use cases. I can quickly, and objectively, understand what’s going on within our system,” Pompano said.

Beyond sharing access to cameras and securely monitoring system usage, making school safety a shared responsibility requires a collaborative initiative amongst teachers, faculty and school safety officers. However, it can be hard to understand where to start building out a strategy that impacts security on campus.

“Starting with areas that we hear are susceptible to vandalism, or other blind spots that have been reported as un-permitted entrance or exit points, we’re proactively mitigating risks that may occur in those areas,” Pompano said. “The camera system makes it easy to know what’s going on in those areas without having to actively monitor those sites. By setting motion alerts, I’m notified any time unusual motion is detected in frame, and I can quickly direct my team to take action immediately.”

Keeping schools safe is something that requires strategy and execution. Talk to those on your team who might know about where incidents occur most commonly, whether it be security officers, teachers, or noon aides. By gathering that insight, you’re able to effectively address issues that are already concerns among students.

Enforce Positive Behaviors on Campus

External factors, such as intruders or suspicious vehicles parked close to school campus are often perceived as the biggest threats to safety on campus, however a majority of inappropriate conduct at school occurs between students. With reported incidents of school bullying at a record high, schools are starting to rely on surveillance footage to objectively make sense of a situation and address unacceptable behaviors.

“Back then, if an incident occurred, all we could do is ask the students involved what happened; it was a students’ word, versus another. Without the ability to know for certain what happened, we had to get parents involved before figuring out what next steps should be,” Pompano said.“What Verkada has provided for my team is the ability to isolate incidents of interest in a matter of seconds. By searching for footage across a certain location with date and time filters, we’re able to see exactly what happened, then speak to the student about it. Our hope is that the student learns from their mistake and sees that there are repercussions to poor behaviors—especially if it risks the safety of other students on campus.”

With cameras deployed across all seven schools in the district, the faculty at Newtown Public School district are confident that they are fostering an environment that is conducive to student learning and positive school experiences.

Final Takeaway

While video security is primarily focused on monitoring the perimeters of our school campuses, exterior doors, and areas of open space, it can also be used to effectively enforce better behavior among our students. We believe that positive school experiences should be expected, and we’re doing our best to make sure that safety starts from the inside.

This article originally appeared in the November December 2020 issue of Campus Security Today.


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