Video Management Systems
How Data-Driven Video is Helping Keep K–12 Students Safe
By Brad Cary
Faced with a near-overwhelming range of daunting issues in education today, school districts across the U.S. are challenged with creating optimal learning environments. And unfortunately, administrators must first work to provide their students with nutrition and a comfortable, secure, and safe environment.
Students have a tough time engaging with classroom learning if they are hungry or if the school lacks basic furnishings and utilities—and students will undoubtedly have trouble learning if they are fearful of being at school and are worried about their safety and security. The rise in school shootings, vandalism, bullying, and other violent incidents has caused district administrators to look for innovative solutions to help secure their schools and proactively protect their students and staff.
As school districts work to rise to the challenge while simultaneously being asked to do more with less, data-driven video has emerged as a viable and effective solution for helping secure the learning environment. Data-driven video management systems, along with today's smart cameras, sensors, and video analytic software, provide insights that can help schools identify and address potential safety and security threats. As technology has advanced, the costs of these devices and technologies have dropped significantly, and system usability has become easily manageable for non-security and non-technical users.
Real-Time Decision-Making Assistance
While almost every school today has some form of on-site video surveillance, these systems are often used to record video with the intent that if something happens, school administrators can go back and review the event, whether that be the cause of a fight or to see what may have happened with a few missing laptop computers. Forensic video data is very beneficial, and a high-performance video management system can bring together a wide range of real-time information to help administrators see and understand their environment to initiate the decision-making process at a much faster rate.
Data-driven video management systems (VMS) can monitor, detect, and classify objects and activities and flag out-of-the-ordinary situations. This data can then be used to detect potential security threats and alert the appropriate personnel. The goal of data-driven video tools is not to replace staff or human decision-making but to help the school’s staff make better decisions and stay focused on their normal daily activities.
Within a data-driven VMS, video analytic software is typically used in combination with other security technologies such as smart cameras, audio detection, air quality sensors, and other smart edge devices. By utilizing an open platform VMS, a school’s existing safety systems—such as access control, lighting, and intercom systems (VMS)—can build upon and be integrated into the video system as an easy-to-use, comprehensive safety and security solution.
At the risk of oversimplifying, today’s data-driven video management systems can be used to "watch and listen" for actions or sounds that are beyond typical. Integrated analytic software can “learn” a camera scene and recognize the “out-of-the-ordinary,” such as too many people gathering, someone walking against the normal traffic flow, flagging exaggerated movements, or a vehicle moving into an area where there shouldn’t be any cars. Cameras can identify open gates or doors, objects left behind, or someone lying on the ground—virtually anything atypical.
Similarly, audio sensors can alert when noise thresholds are crossed, such as with arguing or shouting. They can detect glass breaking, gunshots, screams, and shouts for help. Air quality sensors can detect smoking and vaping in bathrooms, locker rooms, and other areas. Air sensors can also detect carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide gases, and even gases from volatile organic compounds from materials such as cleaning fluids, disinfectants, paints, and varnishes.
In all cases, an open platform VMS leverages an ever-expanding community of camera manufacturers, video analytic software developers, application developers, and device and sensor manufacturers, all working together to create extensions of each other.
This integration of technologies helps ensure that when live monitoring isn’t possible, video data can be automatically sent to appropriate personnel via their desktop PC, smartphones, or mobile devices—allowing the school’s staff to focus on their actual jobs and do more with less. Live video and data notifications can also be shared in real-time with law enforcement and first responders, providing invaluable situational awareness in an emergency.
A Wealth of Archived Video Data
Data-driven video can be a powerful tool for analyzing recorded video, as well. Data from normal operations and past incidents can provide insights to help schools better prepare for future threats. By analyzing data from past incidents, schools can identify areas where they need to improve security and take proactive steps to reduce the risk of future threats.
An excellent example of video data in everyday use is if a child goes missing. Imagine a parent who comes to school at the end of the day to pick up their child, but that child doesn't show up. After a quick check of the classroom and playground, the child is nowhere to be found, and the situation escalates.
By using the video management system’s forensic search tools combined with analytic data, attributes such as the color of the child's hair, the color of her clothes or jacket, and even if she has a backpack or hat can be combined into a single search providing video of only children matching these attributes. The child is identified walking out of the building with a gentleman who is identified as her grandfather, who, despite being on the approved discharge list, unexpectedly picked her up—bringing a sigh of relief to all.
Other non-emergency uses of video data can include monitoring vehicle traffic, which can count vehicles and track and record vehicle speeds. Data like this can help officials decide if speed bumps in the afterschool pick-up zone are needed or perhaps more crosswalk guards are needed. Many schools also install cameras to monitor bus loading areas and have cameras on the interior and exterior of buses to ensure that all procedures are followed and to provide video documentation of any events, whether that be a scuffle on the bus or the bus being struck by another vehicle.
New Cloud Strategies
Over the last several years, significant investment has been made to upgrade the country's national, state, and local data infrastructure. Most U.S. cities today enjoy excellent bandwidth built upon a robust fiber backbone. Modern infrastructure coupled with advances in video compression, aided by high bandwidth 5G wireless networks, is now making cloud VMS solutions both possible, highly flexible, and more affordable for school districts.
A hybrid on-premises/cloud approach to video management also provides some key advantages to schools, including affordable off-site storage of on-site recorded video, the ability to easily share video internally and externally, and the ability to tap into and use cloud-based video analytic software. Expanding on-premises VMS systems to the cloud has become very easy and affordable, with minimal upfront costs and minimal capital investment. A hybrid strategy also allows the school to move at its own pace by integrating a cloud with its on-premises system on an as-needed basis or as capital allows.
Within the U.S. today, many federal, state, and local funds are available to help schools procure the technologies they need for education, safety, and security. As with the Education Stabilization Fund (ESF), that's available to assist schools in dealing with the coronavirus, many grants are available specifically for student safety and security needs. SchoolSafety.gov is an excellent place to learn about available federal funds. All schools and districts should engage with a professional grant writer to best leverage all available resources and funding.
A Comprehensive Approach
One of the best ways to mitigate risk in an education environment is to deploy policies, procedures, and technologies that keep unauthorized visitors from gaining access to a campus in the first place. Video security, access control, and a wide range of integrated open platform security technologies can be combined to create an efficient and effective first line of defense and save valuable time during an emergency.
Having a successful security strategy in place means making sure that all physical aspects of a security system—cameras, remote and mobile monitoring applications, access control systems, networks, intercoms, emergency exits, perimeter sensors, lighting, and all other safety aids—work in concert with each other as an integrated system for the safety and security of all involved.
Within the layers of a security plan, the total solution is only as strong as the weakest point. But by combining security strategies and technologies, administrators can mitigate risk and reduce potential damage by providing the quickest, most well-informed response possible. We can't anticipate every event, but an effective strategy can make a very positive and tangible difference in the lives of school staff, students, and their families. Open platform video management and data-driven analytics are becoming increasingly significant pillars of safety and security strategies within K–12 education.
Brad Cary is the Business Development Manager for Education at Milestone Systems.