11 Things You Should Know About School Security Cameras

school security cameras

For better or worse, cameras play a huge part in our lives. Cameras are used to film our favorite movies and TV shows. They allow us to document our vacations, and capture memories of our children growing up. They also provide us with a lot of Instagram selfies. So. Many. Selfies…

Schools use many tools to ensure a safe environment for students and faculty alike. One of the most popular are school security cameras. There are many things you should be aware of if you are thinking of employing security cameras in your school. Read on to learn 11 essential things you should know about security camera systems.

1) They’re a popular school security tool

Security cameras are widely used in schools across the USA.

A study performed by the National Center for Education Statistics in 2016 showed that 73.2% of elementary schools, 88.6% of middle schools, and 94.2% of high schools employed security cameras in varying degrees.

That’s almost double the amount of schools that were using cameras just a decade earlier. And the number may likely increase further as the price of camera systems continues to decline.

2) Security camera systems are more affordable now

pros cons cost security cameras infographic

In 2006, the estimated cost of a standard resolution (read: crappy) camera for school applications ranged from $500 to $1,000. Higher resolution cameras could cost as much as $8,000! Clearly, a high price tag.

But in 2019, a high definition multi-camera security system can cost as low as $1500. The price for professional installation can vary depending on system type and number of cameras, roughly $100 to $200 per camera for professional installation. So the number of cameras being installed will have a impact on the final price.

Suffice to say, security camera systems are far more affordable than in years past. If you’re trying to figure out how to find room in the budget for a school security cameras, it’s possible to secure funding for these systems for your school.

3) Some systems may qualify for government grants

School districts may be able to receive funding from their state governments or from private donors for improving safety and security in their facilities. This includes tools such as security cameras.

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as just asking for the money. Grantors, whether government or private, usually have a set of actionable criteria that they want to see in school safety grant applications, before they approve any funding. They want to see that schools have already taken measures to promote safety in their schools, by means of policies and programs, before they offer funding for security technologies.

For instance, the Department of Homeland Security recommends following a Threat Assessment Model to improve school safety. This includes following these steps:

  1. Establishing a threat assessment team.
  2. Creating a list of behaviors / red flags that require intervention.
  3. Training personnel and students to use a central reporting system.
  4. Consider when law enforcement should be called to intercede.
  5. Creating your unique threat assessment procedures.
  6. Developing your list of risk management options.
  7. Promoting a safe, positive school climate

Grant applications should outline how a district or school is promoting a safe school already, and detail how they will use the new funds received to improve their current safety plans. For more on the Threat Assessment Model recommended by the DHS, check out our previous post on the subject.

4) School security cameras make it easier to monitor the premises

On top of being affordable and relatively easy to have installed, there are other advantages of using security cameras to monitor the property.  For one thing, cameras act as an “eye in the sky”. There are only so many places a security guard or SRO can be at any given moment. Cameras ensure that the school grounds can be monitored consistently and effectively. Most camera systems even have a feature which will detect movement, and then automatically display that camera feed on the monitors.

Not only do school security cameras discourage violence or intrusions, they also act as investigators. Should a student or intruder feel emboldened enough to carry out a crime, the cameras record it all. Remember that motion detecting feature mentioned above? When reviewing recorded video, you can use this feature to detect movement over a set period of time, making it easier to find incidents without pouring through days of footage. Thus, it becomes much easier to find suspects and charge them accordingly.

In short, some of the benefits of school security cameras include:

  • Helps deter crime, bullying, and school violence.
  • Discourages vandalism and trespassing
  • Easy to monitor the hallways, entrances, and school grounds.
  • Greatly aids in gathering evidence in the event of  an incident.
  • Easy to operate.
  • Can be paired with other systems, such as motion detectors, alarms, and IoT platforms.

For these reasons, security camera systems are one of several tools recommended by the DHS and FBI. That being said, like any other security system, there are some disadvantages as well.

5) Cameras may create privacy concerns

privacy concerns security cameras

George Orwell’s 1984 highlighted the dangers of putting security over privacy. “Big Brother is always watching” was the cheeky catchphrase of the dystopian government featured in the book.

On the topic of security cameras, the above “Big Brother” is quoted fairly often. Not everyone is very keen on having multiple cameras watching most of their movements. Many feel that cameras are an invasion of privacy, and need to be properly balanced with the need for security.

One such area that is greatly debated is that of the classroom. While hallways and other common areas are generally approved for surveillance, classroom monitoring varies by school. Some school and district leaders argue that children are not able to act as freely and naturally as they otherwise would without a camera on them. Thus, it may negatively affect their ability to learn, as well as their development of social skills.

School and district leaders must collectively assess their needs, and decide the balance they want to strike between safety and privacy.

6) Camera systems need a reliable network

K12 Insight states that while new technology makes it easier and more affordable to install cameras in classrooms, district and school leaders need to assess the short-term and long-term costs for such systems.

For instance, school security cameras need regular monitoring by personnel in order to be fully effective. In addition to security patrolling the grounds, a security guard or SRO needs to be consistently watching the security monitors that the cameras are feeding to.

Speaking of camera feeds, a strong network is needed in order for the systems to function properly. A lagging or choppy signal won’t do much to help with surveillance. A strong network is especially needed if the cameras are paired with additional systems. As stated above, security cameras can be paired with alarms, sensors, or IoT-based platforms. If the network is weak, then the effectiveness of these systems could be greatly diminished.

Some questions that school districts would do well to consider:

  • Does your school district’s network support video monitoring?
  • Do you have a secure way to store video footage?
  • Do you have the necessary personnel to effectively use security cameras and monitors?
  • Do you have a comprehensive policy for how classroom video footage is shot, accessed, and shared? Can you write one?

Schools who want to improve their security by means of camera systems need to assess their needs and circumstances, and count the cost.

7) School districts must have security camera policies

security camera system for schools

The Alliance of Schools for Cooperative Insurance Programs (ASCIP) suggests each school district have clearly defined policies regarding video and audio surveillance.

As stated in their Best Practices Guide For Cameras In Schools, the policy should effectively address privacy issues and provide fair disclosure to students, staff and visitors that on-campus surveillance measures are in place.

The policy, at a minimum, should:

  • Authorize the use of video surveillance on district property to monitor the health, welfare, and safety of all staff, students and visitors to district property, and to safeguard district facilities and equipment. Video cameras may be placed in locations as deemed appropriate by designated school administrators.
  • Notify staff and students through student/parent and staff handbooks and signage that on-campus video and audio surveillance may occur on District property and on vehicles used for District-provided transportation.
  • Notify students or staff in violation of Board policies, administrative regulations, building rules, or law that images, video and audio captured through surveillance may be used as evidence that may subject them to appropriate disciplinary and legal action, including, but not limited to, disclosure to law enforcement.
  • State that video recordings may become a part of a student’s educational record or a staff member’s personnel record. The District shall comply with all applicable state and federal laws related to record maintenance and retention.

Having clear policies in place is essential to preserving the privacy of all individuals on the premises, while still ensuring safety and well-being. It also protects the school or district from any legal challenges.

8) Video and audio surveillance are two different things

security guard watching monitors

Video surveillance may be approved by your school district and/or municipal and state legislation. However, recording conversations without the consent of one or more individuals is against the law in the US.

Some video cameras record audio as well, so if you have cameras installed, it’s important to know what their capabilities are. You may have to take additional steps to ensure that the audio recording is disabled.

Or it may be that the laws in your area allow you to record audio as long as proper signage is displayed in public view. Check with your local law enforcement or government offices to find out what is acceptable in your area.

9) Security footage should be stored for at least 30 days

As discussed above, one of the greatest benefits to installing a security camera system is the ability not only to monitor in real time, but to “go back in time.” Recorded footage is essential to finding those responsible for fights, break-ins, vandalism, or hit-and-runs in the parking lot. Obviously, for all of this footage to be recorded, it needs to be stored somewhere.

Some incidents may take place over the summer periods, or over holiday breaks. Since there will be no one monitoring the cameras for an extended period, it becomes necessary for the recorded footage to be stored for at least 30 days. Depending on the amount of cameras, that can add up to hundreds of gigabytes of storage space. When considering security cameras for your school, a dedicated server for storage space needs to be factored into the cost.

That being said, what kind of options for video storage exist? Is it simply a matter of shoving a big server into a closet and running cables to it? Or are there more advanced methods?

10) Unified Video Capture and Cloud Storage

cloud storage security camera systems

Many school districts today use a localized security camera system. Basically, each school has it’s own system, with local video storage within the school. However, some districts are upgrading to a unified video capture system. This essentially means that every camera within the entire district is connected to the same network, and stores it’s footage on a handful of centralized servers using “cloud”-storage technology.

A prime example are Warren County Public Schools in Front Royal, Virginia. They employ 430 security cameras to watch over their 5,800 students and faculty. Their cameras produce over 800 GB of data daily, but with 200 terabytes of available storage on their 6 servers, it allows them to store footage for a month’s time.

Having a handful of servers to store all of the schools’ footage may result in a lower cost for the district. It eliminates the need for each school to have its own server on-site. It also makes the video footage easier to access for personnel and law enforcement.

What other benefits do cloud-based security camera systems bring?

11) Cloud Connectivity Improves Monitoring and Managing

Some school districts have gone a step further than cloud-based server storage. Take the Mount Vernon Independent School District for example. Located in Texas, they care for around 1,600 students. They have drastically reduced their need for network storage and bandwidth by installing cloud-based cameras.

Instead of video footage being stored on a server somewhere, the recorded video is stored on the camera itself. When someone wants to view the footage, they simply click a button in the online browser-based program, wherever they are, and the footage is then streamed directly to them.

Cloud connectivity does more than stream recorded footage. With cloud-connected cameras, you can access the live camera feed at any time, again through the browser-based program. This feature is invaluable. Imagine an emergency scenario, such as an active shooter or hostage situation in the school. Law enforcement could access a live feed of the cameras from outside the school, allowing them to respond quickly and effectively, potentially saving lives.

More eyes makes for better security

security cameras at schoolAs schools continue to look for ways to improve their safety, security camera systems are one of the first places schools should look. They’re relatively affordable, easy to operate, and versatile in their use. Especially considering their ability to pair with other advanced systems.

Like any security measure, it is not a perfect fix. But there’s no denying the benefits cameras bring, while still respecting the overall freedom of students and staff.

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