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Illustration by Security Management, iStock

Battling Storage Lag for Upgraded Surveillance 

The greatest surveillance system in the world is little help without an adequate storage backbone.

Cameras are a basic and fundamental component of a school district’s overall security footprint. Their abilities and the amount of data they generate have advanced so far that they can swiftly overwhelm a system’s available storage capacity. And when it comes time to review an incident, organizations lacking sufficient data storage risk more than the potential to repeat history if they cannot view the footage. Surveillance systems for school districts are meant to assist with various challenges, so video storage is as important as sharp resolution for capturing the crucial moments in incidents ranging from vandalism to bullying to active shooter attacks.

More than three years ago, officials at the Chico Unified School District in California realized that their existing video storage system was not up to the task. The district had around 565 surveillance cameras and was in the process of adding more. Some of the more recent cameras were replacements that boasted an increased 4K resolution, and the increased resolution meant that video feeds would take up even more storage space.

“We knew there was an issue,” says John Vincent, director of information technology for the district. The storage demands stemming from cameras’ enhanced resolution, as well as the cameras that had been gradually introduced in previous years, were taxing the old system—creating bottlenecks and resulting in the software dropping frames. These lags were frustrating for staff because the district encompasses 22 sites and is responsible for securing 1,800 staff members and more than 12,300 students. In addition to its student body and faculty, the schools are also open to the local community after 3:30 p.m. for rentals and after-school programs.

Vincent says that the storage issues were becoming “a painful experience for our facilities and for our maintenance and operations staff.”

By August 2022, the district will have nearly 600 surveillance cameras across its campuses with each upgraded node able to handle feeds from a maximum number of video cameras.

The district and Vincent’s department had available funds, so finding a solution that would integrate with its existing cameras and video management software became a priority. Ultimately, they landed on Quantum’s VS-HSCI Series system, which integrated directly into the school district’s existing environment, so that facility personnel could continue using its Milestone Systems video management system (VMS).

“This part just fell right into it for us,” Vincent says. “We didn’t have to go out and get training on it.”

Another aspect that attracted district staff to Quantum was the added resilience it offered through multiple storage units—or “nodes”—in the district’s data center. The nodes essentially operate as failsafes; if a node shuts down for any reason, its data is copied onto all the other nodes.

“It just gives us peace of mind, so if there is a hardware failure on one of those nodes, it’ll continue to function as it’s supposed to,” Vincent says.

When it comes to efficacy, the lack of missing frames and a smoother playback experience from the expanded storage helps across the district’s spectrum of security concerns.

According to Phil Morgan, the district’s facilities use coordinator, the system helped in settling a vandalism incident in 2019. Students had rolled a couple of large concrete trashcans from school property into a busy street, damaging the cans. District officials reviewed the surveillance feed and identified one of the students. After the student denied any involvement, the student’s parent continued to support the child’s claim until the video footage was shared—eliminating any doubt. The district received restitution from the student’s family to help replace the lost trashcans—which can cost about $1,700 new.

“There’s always two sides to every story, but a video will tell the whole story,” Morgan says. This data can give a more complete picture of an incident and expedite its resolution, he adds.

The expanded storage has also assisted with state-mandated safety protocols. Surveillance feeds from previous lockdown events are used to train emergency responders, local police, and staff. Mock active shooter incidents and other training sessions with police officers also involve a remote guide—someone using the surveillance system to observe and inform officers in real time about sites of potential danger. This kind of training helps familiarize first responders with the campus and the surveillance system.

Another security aspect of the district’s newer facilities are doors with keypads that unlock with authorized Axis Communications keycards. The district’s VMS automatically registers the person exiting or entering every time one of these doors is accessed.

When the nodes were initially installed, the district also had to upgrade its processors to accommodate for more capacity since Milestone is a CPU-heavy software. The upgrade gave the nodes additional flexibility to maximize the number of cameras linked to each node.

The district began installing nodes in the 2018-2019 school year, and since then it has installed two additional nodes and various cameras, upgrading equipment in tandem with facility upgrades and new construction.

As of Security Management’s press time, the Chico Unified School District was discussing modernizing an elementary school with new cameras and nodes.

Vincent estimates that by August 2022, the district will have nearly 600 surveillance cameras across its campuses with each upgraded node able to handle feeds from a maximum number of video cameras.

Vincent recalls that Quantum provided great customer service during installation.

“Their support did a great job of doing a lot of the heavy lifting,” he adds—including integrating with Milestone and helping find the best locations to place cameras. The company continues to offer the same level of customer service eight years after the initial installation.

“If we have issues, we call them up,” Vincent says. “They’re right there to help us out.”

For more information contact Quantum’s Curt Wittich, [email protected]