Topeka School District greatly improves security for safer educational environment with IP video surveillance
- By Courtney Pedersen
- November 01, 2016
TOPEKA KANSAS UNITED SCHOOL DISTRICT (USD) 501
ONCE RELIED ON LIMITED ANALOG SECURITY SYSTEMS
TO COVER A FEW OF ITS 40 SCHOOL CAMPUSES AND
FACILITIES. THESE STANDALONE SYSTEMS WERE NOT
CONNECTED AND PRODUCED POOR IMAGE QUALITY
THAT RESULTED IN DIFFICULTIES ADDRESSING AND
RESOLVING INCIDENTS. AS SCHOOL SAFETY ISSUES
CONTINUED TO PERSIST, PERFORMANCE WAS IMPACTED
AND ENROLLMENT DROPPED AT SOME DISTRICT
The increase in incidents and safety concerns prompted the district
to perform a security audit that involved the Topeka Police Department
school resource officers, the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force and
the Department of Homeland Security. The agencies made recommendations
for an enhanced digital surveillance system to monitor activity
on and around school campuses.
Following the audit, the district was awarded a federal security grant
for a pilot project to implement a new IP video system for Highland
Park High School. The district then set out to find a security partner to
help identify the solution that could accurately and efficiently help
school resource officers monitor and respond to security issues to
ensure the safety of students, staff and facilities.
Topeka Public Schools USD 501 covers all of Topeka city and is the
third largest school district in Kansas. The district includes more than
14,000 students attending classes in 40 buildings. The district has three
high schools, six middle schools and 17 elementary schools. It is widely
known for its role in the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education
school desegregation case of 1954.
In choosing its new solution, the district worked with local integrator
ISG Technology. ISG has been named Milestone Partner of the Year
and has a long history of expertise installing Milestone solutions. ISG
worked closely with the school to identify the solution that would meet
their needs—starting with Milestone XProtect Corporate VMS and
150 Axis network cameras, plus integrated S2 Security access control
for door monitoring.
After the implementation of the new digital video system in 2011,
incidents at Highland Park High School were reduced significantly.
Following the pilot project success, the district began expanding the
system in 2012 to cover two additional high schools and alternative schools, with 450 more cameras. Officials then added cameras at the
middle schools. Once they had eight schools covered by IP cameras, it
became clear that they should implement a central command center so
all data could be monitored efficiently from one location. This
approach offered considerable cost savings over installing multiple
servers and infrastructure at different locations.
The district voted in 2015 to continue expanding the Milestone/Axis
solution to cover schools across the district and add monitoring capabilities
using the Milestone Mobile client that gives access to the video
from smartphones and laptops. Currently, the district’s system covers
15 schools with about 1,200 cameras, and there are plans to add
approximately 1,000 cameras and cover 25 more schools by mid-2017.
IP NETWORK ADVANTAGES
Milestone’s IP VMS provided a significant upgrade to the district’s analog
system and greatly enhanced its ability to centrally monitor and
efficiently respond to incidents on and around school campuses. The
added functionality of the Milestone software allows the district to
easily access video locally at individual school locations or off site on
computers or mobile devices.
With hundreds more cameras than its previous system, the district
can now view video from throughout the campuses without worrying
about blind spots. Axis cameras provide a much higher video quality
than the district’s prior analog system and enable school officers to
monitor suspicious people and activity in surrounding neighborhoods.
The district plans to share access to its video system with the Topeka
emergency operations center to allow other first responders to view
video in the event of an emergency or crime.
ADVANTAGES OF FEDERATED ARCHITECTURE
The district continues to implement the Milestone and Axis solution
across its schools and recently moved to centralized management of
the system with the Federated Architecture platform from Milestone
XProtect Corporate. For Mike Reece, account manager for ISG’s Topeka
branch, the move is both cost-effective and forward-thinking.
“We realized after doing a few schools that server costs were really
adding up,” Reece said. “We decided to migrate to the Federated
Architecture platform. It’s a move made with school budgets in mind,
but more importantly with the future in mind. We’re adding district
schools every year, which means adding more XProtect Corporate
licenses. Now, each system is linked, and we have a central command
center where every school and every camera is viewable. It’s
Through the Milestone Federated Architecture (MFS), system operators
have access to video, audio and other resources across all the
individual XProtect Corporate systems in the federated hierarchy
based on their user rights in each system. In addition, administrators
have the ability to centrally manage sites within the hierarchy through
the Management Client, based on administration rights set up for the
individual sites in the hierarchy.
MFA is the perfect solution for the district: a large installation covering
multiple buildings and campuses. It provides the district with
unlimited scaling, flexibility and accessibility for more efficient, costeffective
video surveillance across multiple sites.
AXIS IP CAMERAS PROVIDE FUNCTIONALITY
Axis network cameras have now become the district standard. Reece
appreciates the tight integration between Milestone and Axis, and that
they are easy to install and offer a variety of options for every environment.
He says the cameras adjust to light fluctuations extremely well,
which is especially important in a school setting where doors are continually
opening and letting sunlight flood the space.
Reece and his team at ISG worked closely with school resource officers
to design a solution that provides coverage in the areas where it is
needed. From parking lots to hallways, the district now has full surveillance
where incidents may occur.
Director of School Safety for Topeka Public Schools Ron Brown has
been instrumental in getting the district to expand and upgrade its
video system. He’s been pleased with the Milestone and Axis solution
and its ability to provide actionable information.
“The IP zoom capabilities are very good. We’re able to identify kids
a block or two away and see what they’re doing,” Brown said.
He added that coverage surrounding the schools helps protect the
facilities since staff and officers are now able to monitor suspicious
people, especially in high crime areas around some schools. The district
also uses the cameras to monitor sporting events or school functions
in gymnasiums and stadiums rather than having a lot of officers
patrolling, which could be intrusive.
A ROBUST, EASY-TO-USE SYSTEM
The district’s Milestone VMS allows each officer to create custom views
that are readily available when they log in. Jeremy Leithoff, school
resource officer at Topeka High School, particularly likes being able to
set cameras to a ‘home’ position so they automatically return to a set
default when they are not being moved manually.
“When we get done looking for a student or staff member, we simply
hit a button and it goes right back to a preset position,” Leithoff said.
Video from any camera within the district can now be viewed from
any computer by users with login credentials. Milestone Mobile
expands access to video from the district’s system by allowing those
with access to view video on mobile devices (smartphones and tablets).
“Milestone is ahead of all other systems and its very user friendly,”
Leithoff said. “The system is easy to learn, and even easier to use.”
The VMS system was also selected due to its grooming capabilities
to lower the bit rate of video for more efficient storage. This allows the
district to store larger amounts of video for a longer period of time,
‘pruning’ it into tiers brings cost savings.
The open platform provides the ability to fully integrate with an access
control system from S2 Security. This has enabled the district to remotely
lock and unlock doors from the video interface. By integrating cameras
with the access control system, video is triggered to show camera
views of doors being opened and closed, and can lock them if necessary.
PARTNERS FOR SUCCESS
According to Reece, ISG felt confident recommending a Milestone and
Axis solution due to its previous experience with both products and its
relationship with the companies.
“Milestone stands behind its products, and we knew we could get
help if we ever needed it,” Reece said.
ISG hosts brief training events each time it rolls out the system to
new schools and provides training booklets to
district officers. Reece said the officers pick up the
system easily and quickly learn new capabilities
on their own.
This article originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.