School has been a scary place just by its nature of demanding attention, work and social anxiety from students. Unfortunately, those concerns have been joined by real-world anguish and fear. Students are worried about their safety and the safety of their friends as violence escalates in our public schools.
In the shadow of the Rocky Mountains it is hard to imagine that on a bright spring day in 1999 the peace and tranquility of an upper-middle-class high school would be forever shattered by gunfire, bombs, injury and death. In the aftermath, we are left to ask ourselves how we could have better protected the students both before and during this tragic event.
All across our nation following the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, CO, administrations, school boards and communities asked themselves how they could prevent this in their schools. Many turned to educational programs to boost student awareness of alternatives to violence. Others looked to increased security and police personnel, while still others turned to technology for answers. Those who choose to implement new technologies oftentimes found the market lacking effective tools to answer the challenge.
Here in Colorado, the second largest school district in the state, Denver Public Schools (DPS), began several new initiatives and revitalized existing programs to try to stem the tide of violence. With over 73,000 students attending school in more than 140 buildings across the system, DPS was faced with a monumental technical challenge. In response, a team consisting of staff members from DPS Safety and Security, the DPS Department of Technology Services (DOTS), DPS administrative personnel, and school building staff began the research necessary to develop an effective security strategy that utilized the latest technological advancements in Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) and intrusion detection/access control systems. Bill Stewart, systems specialist in the DPS Safety and Security Department explained it this way: "The DPS design was a collaborative effort among all facets of DPS administration. We felt that we had to get the buy-in of not only our technology people, but also the end-users of the system in order to ensure a successful project. Product choice became a non-issue once we understood the ability to integrate multiple manufacturers' products to achieve the performance we wanted. At the end of the day, the safety and security of our students and staff is all that matters."
Over a period of two years, a specification was developed that called for a phased approach to the purchase and implementation of these systems. The initial phase plan called for the installation of a limited number of cameras and digital video recorders (DVRs) in each of the 146 school buildings across the district. These DVRs would then be connected to the district's central security dispatch center via the existing wide area network. The intent of this phase was to introduce CCTV technology to the Safety and Security staff and the building administrators and to allow both the local building administration and central dispatch to view both live and recorded video.
Drawing on the lessons learned from Columbine, several DVR features quickly became requirements. While much has been learned from eyewitness accounts of the Columbine incident, little was known at the time the events were actually taking place. Even though the cameras in the cafeteria and other locations throughout the school recorded some of the events taking place, the responding officers and medical personnel were unable to access the live or recorded video in real time, therefore they had no way of knowing what was taking place inside the building. Nearly three hours passed from the time the perpetrators killed themselves until the police were fairly certain the building was safe for rescue personnel to enter. During those three hours, additional lives were lost that perhaps could have been saved if the police had access to the video system.
The DPS specifications called not only for access to the live and recorded video in real time from central dispatch, but wireless access onsite for law enforcement responding to an incident at the building. Any police officer will agree the worst situation to respond to is one where there is an alarm or call for help, but no information on what the situation is inside the building.
As further work was completed on the DPS specification, it became clear that a new or updated central dispatch facility would be required. This part of the project became part of phase two along with additional cameras and new access control technology for the middle and high school buildings. Once a completed specification was drafted, a bond issue was placed on the November 2003 ballot and was passed by a wide margin by the voters of the DPS district. In December 2003, bids were solicited and finally in April of 2004, the committee selected National Network Services (NNSI) of Centennial, CO to implement phase one of the project.
National Network Services (NNSI)...www.nnsi.net
Camera Network Centralizes Security In Denver
As a true systems integrator, National Network Services (NNSI) of Centennial, CO put together the best technology available from several different manufacturers to provide DPS with a best in class, cost-effective solution. The heart of the system is a network of 146 Integral Technologies DS XPress digital video recorders. The wide variety of configurations available in the DS XPress recorder along with the robust software suite and remote-access software made it an easy choice for this project. Stewart added, "What attracted us initially to the DS XPress DVR was the ability for our officers and investigators to quickly and easily access both live and recorded video. When connected to the DPS wireless network via a laptop, tablet computer, or web-enabled cell phone, a responding officer can see inside the building in real time and understand how the situation is developing before putting him or herself and others in danger."
Camera selection fell into three categories. Indoor day/night cameras are the SSC-CD73VT model from Sony. For the outdoor fixed cameras, DPS chose the Honeywell/Silent Witness MGD600 day/night camera in a mini-dome enclosure. Finally, the outdoor PTZ cameras chosen were the GE/Kalatel KTA-LDE-8 model.
As a major contributor to the specification, the DPS DOTS team recommended that the camera and security device cabling be integrated into the DOTS structured wiring plan. As such, all cameras and other security equipment are connected via standard Cat-6 UTP structured wiring. The complete DOTS structured wiring plan was adopted for this project and the building infrastructures were utilized to transport video, control and power to the security cameras and other security devices.
Supporting the UTP transmission of video, power and control is equipment from NITEK. The cameras chosen utilize built-in video baluns for video transmission over the Cat-6 cabling, and NITEK video receivers are placed in the telecommunications closets throughout the building. These closets are all connected by UTP backbone cabling allowing the DVR and other equipment to be placed anywhere in the building. As a part of this project, NNSI has placed over 100 miles of Cat-6 cabling in the buildings to support these systems.
Early in the implementation stage of phase one, a team of Integral Technologies specialists and NNSI field engineers and project managers spent many hours in training to insure that the products were ready to be rolled out and that proper training plans were put in place for the end-users. To support the users in the field, a training and instruction manual specific to the DPS system was developed by NNSI, and a copy is distributed to every user of the system.
With phase one nearing completion, attention is now being turned to the beginnings of phase two. During the summer of 2005, a new transportation facility housing the Safety and Security offices and central dispatch has been constructed and will be occupied soon. This new transportation facility is equipped with a DS XPress DVR and Integral Technologies Continuum access-control system. The access-control system utilizes RFID readers at the gates and RFID tags fitted to the buses to track the entry and exit of the buses from the facility. This access data is then fed to the DS XPress DVR and tagged to the video of the bus moving through the gate. Future plans call for integration of the time clock data into the video database completing the composite picture of the entire day's activity for each school bus.
Phase two calls for the dispatch center to be fitted with additional recording and viewing equipment. This will allow alarm-triggered video to be recorded simultaneously both locally at the school and at central dispatch for forensic use. In addition to the central dispatch upgrades, additional cameras are being requested by the building administrators.
Finally, a plan is being developed to implement an access-control system for the middle and high school buildings that will be integrated into the CCTV system to further secure these buildings. Initially slated to be a $3.5 million project, the systems are coming in under budget.
There are minor incidents every day in schools around the nation. Technology can lend us some peace of mind that at least we can respond adequately in those instances. Until and unless there is a major incident of violence in a DPS school, it may be impossible to evaluate the effectiveness of these systems in a Columbine-like situation. Let's hope we never have to use the power of technology in that manner ever again.