A Look into Campus Life
It was the incident that every school administrator fears. A student walked out of the bathroom and reported that another boy in the bathroom had a gun. The student did not know the boy’s name, which meant—on a campus of thousands of people—officials were unsure where he might be.
But administrators knew where the boy had been. They looked back at camera feeds from outside the bathroom where the student had been. Using those captured images, officials were able to identify the boy who allegedly had the gun, figure out which classroom he was in, and conduct a targeted search to confiscate a fake firearm before anyone was hurt or threatened.
“It happened so swiftly. Had we not had the camera system, we would not have been able to as easily identify the students who were reported,” says Shanna Egans, director of student support services for the Anaheim Union High School District (AUHSD).
AUHSD is located just outside of Los Angeles and serves around 31,000 students in seventh through twelfth grades, making it one of the largest school districts in California. Its roughly 2,900 employees are spread across 1,250 classrooms in 21 different facilities.
Despite this vast physical presence, the district did not have a robust security camera system. AUHSD had received a grant to install a few cameras at a new high school in 2004, but otherwise administrators did not have a way to monitor or document incidents on campus unless they were observed in person.
Following several security incidents and school shootings at other campuses across the United States, the district received feedback from community stakeholders that it needed to strengthen campus security through the addition of fencing, lighting, and security cameras.
Voters passed Measure H in November 2014, which authorized $249 million to pay for the new security features for AUHSD. The district hired an engineer to scope out the technical specifications for the camera system it would need. Officials then worked with school principals and administrative staff to identify where the priorities should be for placing cameras—such as gathering points for students and the buildings’ main entrances and exits.
AUHSD also reached out to local police departments to identify what they would like to see the camera system cover and what specifications the system should have if footage needed to be turned over to law enforcement.
Once the master plan had been finalized, the district worked with integrator HCI and chose a video solution of Hanwha Techwin’s QNV-7080R 4MP Network IR Vandal Resistant Cameras and Milestone’s video management system (VMS).
AUHSD was attracted to the Milestone system because it has interoperability with different vendors and the licensing was well priced, says Erik Greenwood, chief technology officer for AUHSD.
The district was equally attracted to Hanwha’s cameras because of the feature sets available and because the image quality, frame rate, and light specifications matched its request for proposal.
AUHSD also liked the configuration of the Hanwha cameras. “We had a very streamlined set of models to look at.... The committee really liked that approach from a troubleshooting standpoint and from a maintenance standpoint where you don’t have to keep a bunch of different types of cameras in stock,” Greenwood adds.
Additionally, AUHSD officials liked the fact that the Hanwha cameras were vandal resistant—meaning the dome could be removed and replaced or cleaned without having to replace the entire camera.
The installation of the system was roughly a year-long process with HCI, beginning in February 2019 and wrapping up in February 2020.
Along with installing 1,250 cameras, the district also needed to establish its policies and procedures for the new camera system.
“It was a new function that the district was taking on, and it took time to figure out who was going to be responsible for the day-to-day review of the cameras,” Greenwood says. “While we develop the scope of work, what’s our retention policy? What types of features do we want in the system? And since we haven’t added any staffing, what is going to fall on whose plate?”
The district created a plan where Greenwood’s department is responsible for managing the VMS and maintaining connectivity of the security cameras. It also established a 30-day retention policy for the system, and then informed the student body and staff about it.
“We make sure everyone’s aware of that 30-day retention—that the clock is ticking as soon as the event has come and gone, and time is of the essence in identifying what happened,” Greenwood adds.
A district staff member or administrator is not tasked with monitoring the camera system in real time. Instead, AUHSD relies on individuals to report incidents—such as a fight in the cafeteria—and then an administrator can use the camera system footage to look back and observe what happened.
Using the camera footage, administrators can identify individuals involved and follow up with them for interviews to complete an investigation. The camera footage is just part of the information that the district uses, Greenwood emphasizes.
“They were just caught on video but it’s not the evidence—it’s the tool that supports and helps you gather evidence,” he says.
AUHSD has also used the system to verify personnel issues, such as inappropriate use of school equipment.
“It’s been a positive—making sure things are happening when they’re supposed to be,” Greenwood says, adding that AUHSD has changed its HR policies to require that video footage of an entire incident must be extracted.
“As we thought through what the implications of an event we need to document are, we knew it should not just be a screenshot of that particular frame—you need the broader context of the event,” he explains.
The district took a similar approach to thinking through policy ramifications when it enabled mobile access to the Milestone VMS to view camera feeds after school hours. It selected administrators whom it had a “high degree of confidence in” to document and store evidence appropriately, Greenwood says.
Now that the initial installation of the system is complete, AUHSD is exploring where it needs to add cameras to address blind spots. It’s also looking at how it can integrate the system into some of its other projects to provide better oversight of the campus.
“We’ve started looking at integration points through Milestone—is there a way to tie access control into the system where we have a strategic door we want an alert on if someone attempts to open it?” Greenwood says.
AUHSD is also mindful that the cost to maintain the existing system is a factor when considering adding new features.
“We’re able to put the system in based off a bond measure, but as with technology it doesn’t last forever,” Greenwood says. “We are mindful of the need for potential expansion, but we’re weighing that against how we’re going to be able to maintain and periodically update the system—whether that’s the cameras, the storage, or the staffing.”
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