Milestone enhances surveillance for Anchorage School District

Milestone enhances surveillance for Anchorage School District

The Challenge

As a way to address rising vandalism such as broken windows and recurring playground fires at elementary schools, the Anchorage School District began installing and experimenting with video security and surveillance systems. With a limited budget, the district started a program that included the installation of four to six cameras at elementary schools, six to ten cameras at middle schools, and 10 to 15 cameras at the larger high schools. These initial systems comprised a mix of analog cameras with on-site digital video recorders (DVR) monitoring and recording.

“After we installed the first sets of cameras, the systems quickly received a lot of positive use, and we started getting requests for expanded capabilities,” said Kelly Kass, Project Manager, Anchorage School District. “With the cameras, people could monitor areas of the school they were not able to see before. This helped users realize there was a lot they were not seeing.”

The Solution

With the initial installations, the district saw a reduction in vandalism and they were able to record several events that helped with identifying and apprehending suspects. However, it was the overall increased situational awareness that deemed the initial test a success. Administrators decided to install more cameras and build a more capable video management system. Over the course of the next few years, the district deployed cameras at several more school sites.

After trying to gain more functionality from their analog/DVR-based video system, the district contacted Anixter and asked if they could suggest a path to move forward with migrating to an IP-based system. Anixter had been involved in the district’s cabling infrastructure for several years, and additionally saw success in Milestone-based IP video systems with other customers, including another school district.

“Our suggestion was to go with Milestone. But knowing what challenges the district had faced with the proprietary analog system, we suggested they do a side-by-side evaluation of the top three VMS platforms that we worked with,” said Bob Thibault, RCDD, Alaska Territory Manager, Anixter. “This was a controlled evaluation that lasted for several months. We helped make sure they used the same integrator and the exact same cameras in each system. After reviewing and meeting with the different schools and having the principals visit the alternate schools, the district unanimously decided on the Milestone platform.”

Advantages

The Milestone VMS was selected based on a range of included features, ease of use, devices supported, technical support, performance and cost evaluation. Once Milestone was officially chosen as the VMS, the district requested bids from the local authorized Milestone integrators. Siemens Industry Building Technologies Division was the integrator of choice.

The Milestone VMS was selected based on a range of included features, ease of use, devices supported, technical support, performance and cost evaluation.

The district then decided to have a single integrator perform all the camera programming and configuration, regardless of which contractor was doing the camera installation. Siemens was awarded a contract to support all cameras and installations for Milestone at all the Anchorage schools.

Since then the district has installed 50 Milestone systems. As funding becomes available, they continue to upgrade and expand more schools to Milestone VMS.

“At this point, every school in the district has some sort of camera system,” said Kass. “We have the older systems still in place in about half the schools, but as IP cameras continue to get better and less expensive, we look at new models to meet our needs in specific areas. Perhaps long-range zoom cameras and some specialty cameras for monitoring playgrounds and parking lots will be considered.”

Fights, Tech Theft, Costly Fires, Broken Windows

Within the Anchorage School District, playground fires are a real problem. The elementary school playgrounds make use of shredded rubber mulch as a surface under the playground equipment. The surface is soft, durable, weather resistant and made of recycled sources, but unfortunately it burns (if intentionally lit), and the Anchorage School District has had three or four playground fires each summer since use of the mulch began. Most fires are vandalism, and one documented fire was accidental. Each fire costs the district about $100,000 to replace or repair the playground.

The use of cameras has helped identify the cause of fires and identification of suspects. With proper evidence restitution from the suspect is possible, and the district is looking toward more capable cameras for addressing this unique requirement.

“Vandalism is the ultimate reason for the video systems,” said Kass. “But as things have played out at the high school level, we’ve
had a good deal of use in accurately identifying students involved in fights, even vindicating the non-aggressor. With video, we can quickly see who the instigator was and act accordingly.”

Kass explained that at middle schools and high schools, there is a lot of equipment and technology within reach. The use of video has helped reduce theft and aided in narrowing down the students involved. Video monitoring also alerts officials to large student gatherings, and provides the ability to notice students or visitors in restricted areas.

Elementary schools primarily use cameras on the exterior, for monitoring and “buzzing in” visitors at the entrances, as well as watching the playgrounds. Window breakage is also a costly problem. Many of the district’s schools are remote, and there is no direct view of houses or shopping centers to keep an eye out for vandals.

“Window breakage was getting so bad that one year we boarded up every window in the Anchorage School District that wasn’t in plain sight of the community,” said Kass. “After the cameras were installed, we started seeing a reduction of breakage, and now we’ve stopped boarding up the windows altogether.”

The district’s many remote sites present such a challenge that they offer a program for RV campers to park on the school grounds during the summer, offering free space, water and power so their presence can act as a deterrent to crime and vandalism. The installation of cameras is slowly replacing this program, with the cameras able to provide 24/7 coverage as well as video documentation of events.

Training and Connectivity

An important component to the district’s success with the video system involved Milestone’s ability to provide on-site user training. Milestone certified instructors provided detailed training and instruction for about 100 Anchorage School District administrators, security professionals, and IT personnel. The goal was to make the district as effective and self-supportive as possible, right from the beginning.

“One of the beauties of the new system is that it’s very easy to access the video, said Kass. “The old DVR system was very cumbersome, but the Milestone VMS is very intuitive. Anytime users have a question, they access the Help Menu, and answer their own questions. The system is so intuitive, we get very few calls.”

To address bandwidth issues, the systems are leveraging Milestone Federated Architecture for all the school servers, keeping all the recorded video on site but allowing administrators to access the connected systems from a single central location, no matter where they are on the network.

Over the last three years, the district has deployed 1,270 Milestone device licenses with a total projected scope targeted at 2,700 cameras in the future. The district’s policy is to keep recorded video for 30 days with individual schools archiving events as needed.

Anchorage School District uses Cisco IP network components, so all switches are Cisco standardized and all district IT personnel are Cisco certified.

The Crown Jewel — A.J. Dimond High School

A.J. Dimond High School is one of eight comprehensive high schools in the Anchorage School District, home to approximately 1,750 students and over 150 faculty and staff. After an extensive upgrade and facility expansion, administrators and integrators took advantage of the school’s updated infrastructure and pathways to install a first-class, IP-based video security system.

Currently, the high school has 80 cameras installed throughout the campus. Many cameras are internal, with public display monitors in view to help act as a visual deterrent to vandalism and crime. Perimeter and parking lot cameras are also in use. A dual-server system accommodates the volume of video bandwidth without taxing the server too much.

Officer Mark Wells is the School Resource Officer for A.J. Dimond High School, who works on-site to reduce juvenile crime through law enforcement, education, and prevention programs. His goal is to provide positive law enforcement support that concentrates on safety and security, and encourage relationships between officers, school administrators, teachers and students.

Officer Wells uses the Milestone video surveillance system at the school on a daily, if not hourly, basis. Although he wouldn’t describe himself as a technical person, Officer Wells has a great deal of appreciation for the system’s ease of use.

“The Milestone system is really simple. The people I work with here think I’m an expert, but I’m not. It’s just an awesome product,” said Wells. “It’s really quite simple. If I need a camera that’s not on the screen, I just drag and drop it over from the list of networked cameras and it’s then in my view to work with.”

Officer Wells is responsible for A.J. Dimond High School as well as for Mears Middle School and the elementary schools that feed into both schools.
 
“I monitor several different systems, but from a usability perspective, they’re all pretty close to the same,” said Wells. “The systems are all Milestone-based, so I’m very comfortable going to each school, accessing their video, navigating the system, and researching events. The system is intuitive enough that I can navigate and use each system.”

Wells added that the system’s easy-to-use search mode saves him and administrators a great deal of time. From locating missing equipment to missing students, the video surveillance system has become an invaluable tool for forensic research.

“If we noticed something missing in the past, we would have no way of tracking it down and figuring out what happened,” said Wells. “With the Milestone system, I can plug in a specific date as a search start point, and usually within about 10 minutes I can figure out when something disappeared, and who was in the area at the time. That’s how I judge any website or application: if I can get in and quickly find what I need, it’s a good piece of software. Milestone is very easy to use, and I’ve been very happy.”


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