Community Responds to Make School Safer
A Michigan-based Catholic school is providing a beacon of light amid the dark shadow that continues to loom over educational institutions a year after the Sandy Hook massacre. A unique video surveillance and lockdown solution has been introduced that directly alerts the local police command center for faster, potentially lifesaving response time.
Police Play Pivotal Role
A key ingredient to making sure response would happen as quickly as possible should an incident occur was getting buy-in and cooperation from the Canton Police Department. When Wellman reached out on behalf of the school, the agency showed it was willing and eager to assist and support the initiative in any way possible.
“Mark Wellman mentioned he was working with All Saints School to put in a lockdown system and wanted to know if we would be willing to connect it into our police dispatch center so we could decrease response time in the event of an emergency,” says Scott Hilden, a deputy chief and 21-year Canton Police veteran. “We absolutely said we’d be willing to do that. Anything that will increase the safety of a school and children we are willing to participate in.”
Canton Police includes nearly 90 sworn officers protecting and serving a community of 90,000 people. Recent crime data shows Canton to be safest in Michigan among communities of comparable size, and the 33rd-safest community in the country. Although the agency has used and been expanding municipal video surveillance throughout its township, the All Saints deployment was to be the first of its kind. Hilden and Canton Police became involved i
n the process in the first quarter of 2013.
“We met several times with the school and with the company that did the installation. After they got their systems installed they came in and installed some components in our dispatch center,” says Hilden. “We did some practice lockdown drills to make sure the system was working, and then again at the beginning of the school year. We were all on the same page and wanted the same thing.”
An overriding objective was to remove any obstacle affecting police responding and neutralizing any given threat as expediently as possible. One of the hallmarks of the solution is how it ensures police are able to enter the building even in a lockdown scenario. The police department now has the ability to remotely unlock the school’s doors so officers can quickly enter and counter a threat.
Hilden further details a couple of the ways the solution is most beneficial from a law enforcement perspective: “Lockdown activation can take place in numerous locations within the building, so in the event of an incident you don’t have to rely on one area, one person to make an actual lockdown announcement. That makes it much more reliable. Also, the immediate notification to police is critical; it allows us to immediately look through the cameras to see what’s going on. As a result, we get officers en route quicker. And we’re going to hopefully be able to tell them where in the building the threat is.”
Making Kids Feel Safe, Not Scared
As it does in most installations of this type, funding was a major consideration. Fortunately, the desired functionality was attainable without breaking the bank.
“We didn’t need to get Cadillac but we made good investments on a good equipment platform we felt was going to be reliable with minimal maintenance and support requirements,” says Wellman, who also credits the school’s IT department for helping the entire operation go smoothly. “We needed to keep it simple. We didn’t want to tie up the system in heavy technological challenges that could have complicated performance.”
Networked Samsung cameras met that goal in that they offered ease of installation and Web browser-based setup, yet provided plenty of features and performance so Camtronics could tailor the solution according to what the network could handle. A mix of 16 Samsung pan/tilt/zoom (p/t/z) dome, standard p/t/z and outdoor fixed cameras feed into an onsite 16-channel Samsung NVR. While the cameras functioned flawlessly, Wellman says the installation did offer some minor hitches.
“The challenge I recall the most would be mounting some of the exterior cameras on the school. The building was built very solidly and getting cabling in and out of the school to the cameras and through the facility was among the challenges, but nothing we weren’t prepared for.”
The system’s video signals are also transmitted to the Canton Police dispatch center through a Verizon 4G connection. Camtronics’ status as a member of the Verizon Partner Program helped facilitate the project’s connectivity needs.
“The Verizon connection allowed us to deploy the technology into the dispatch center without having to interfere or connect to any high-security networks the police department had in place,” says Wellman. “It’s a supervised system so it’s always being monitored, which with the Verizon system it’s very stable.”
The electronic access control system is mostly AMAG equipment, and there are Bosch PIR request-to-exit devices. The alarm and alert system features Rutherford Controls Inc. (RCI) emergency pull stations and Mallory Sonalert audio indicators.
“The alarms in the school were picked by the total requirements and volumes we needed. We looked for ones that could be adjusted, so if it’s kindergarten or preschool we could adjust those levels down so as not to scare the children. But maybe for the higher grade levels, we could adjust them up louder in volume. We tailored the annunciation system to meet its audience.”
The system modulates various types of audible alerts to communicate certain situations to those within the school. Different tones and patterns signify different predicaments and associated responses.
“The nice part about the system is even though we’re not speaking directly to the Canton Police, they’re able to send us information to let the teachers know they’re on the way,” says Strausbaugh. “Or it can let us know police are onsite, based on the type of sounds the teachers are hearing with the alarm. It gives staff a sense of calm.”
The sound, loudness and frequency of the system’s annunciations were among the trickiest aspects of the project. Parents, children, teachers and administrators alike were concerned about the solution being positively perceived and enhancing safety as opposed to increasing or inducing panic.
“The last thing we needed to do was scare the children,” says Wellman. “We understood children are sometimes more intimidated or frightened than comforted by fire horns, for example. There’s so much anxiety that sometimes they can’t go to school. We didn’t want children to feel that way because practicing security is what proves its efficiencies.”
Being acutely aware of this, after the system went online Wellman and police officers were on hand to speak with the teachers and students, and walk them through a drill. They demonstrated what the sound was going to be and the procedures that would ensue. When they set the alarm off, a lot of the kids covered their ears but then discovered it was not as bad as they had imagined. Parents were relieved as well.
“We’ve received great feedback from our parents,” says Strausbaugh. “Some were concerned this was going to become a focus with lots of practice drills, so they were worried about the kids’ anxiety level. But when we talked about what our rollout was and how we were explaining it to the children, they calmed down and are happy it’s the safest environment possible we can provide.”
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