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Verkada strengthens security at La Cañada Unified School District

Verkada strengthens security at La Cañada Unified School District
How a top 1% school district adopts a multi-layered security strategy with Verkada
With rigorous academic programs and dedicated staff, La Cañada Unified School District (LCUSD) ranks in the top 1% of California student achievement scores with 98% of LCUSD graduates attending post-secondary schools. About 4,000 students are enrolled across one middle school, three California Distinguished elementary schools and one National Blue Ribbon high school.
As the Associate Superintendent of Technology Services, Jamie Lee Lewsadder’s journey with LCUSD began as a student. Today, she bridges her passion and background in education and technology to build a kind, safe and fun learning environment through a systems-based, strategic approach to physical security planning.

The challenge

The devastation of Parkland in 2019 was felt deeply by LCUSD’s close-knit community, and the School Board responded by forming a dedicated safety committee. They began with a threat assessment from security consulting firm Chameleon Associates to identify vulnerabilities and areas of improvement.
“If we’re looking at the components of a school violence incident, a large part of it is the prevention phase,” says Jamie, “There were key areas we wanted to focus on – including student wellness, communication strategies and campus safety.”
Jamie spent a year working with campus safety subject matter experts, law enforcement, parents and teachers to understand their concerns and what schools should be doing. In the end, the subcommittee presented 60 items to prioritize and put into action. “My job was then to focus on the technology and how we could implement them.”
In her evaluation, Jamie found it difficult to overcome the concept of a closed security system. However, one installer posed a question that changed her view: “If you find a partner with all the integrations you need within their system, then what is there to integrate?”

Why Verkada?

“Verkada provides us with an all-in-one system for building operations and security. From office and visitor management to vape and intrusion detection, we have everything we need in one cohesive environment.”
All Verkada products combine seamlessly within the intuitive, cloud-based Command software platform. The District is able to:
  1. Enhance visibility and control at entrances with Intercom.
  2. Automate emergency response with Alarms.
  3. Enable real-time monitoring without onsite guards.
  4. Protect technology and student wellness with Air Quality Sensors.
  5. Take a granular approach to lockdown strategy with Access Control.
  6. Create a safe and welcoming environment with Guest.
With an evolving software stack and a 10-year warranty on all hardware, the total cost of ownership is simple and straightforward. “Seeing how Verkada is constantly innovating and developing new solutions compelled us to move forward. Instead of stagnant software, what we buy in 2019 will be even better in 2029.”

Enhance visibility and control at entrances with Intercom

After adding perimeter fences and exterior door locks, the office became the primary point of entry. To provide peace of mind, visibility and control, Jamie deployed Verkada’s cloud-based video intercom solution to bring the buzz-to-enter concept to life.
“The integration between products is powerful, we have a single pane of glass where we can remotely take calls, gain visual context, manage visitors, control access, and call for help if needed,” she adds, "Verkada Intercom provides an additional layer of protection where office staff has the ability to immediately lock the front door, know who's out there, and control who enters."
With no receiver station, server or NVR needed, Verkada Intercom took less than an hour to install and ties harmoniously with the rest of the Verkada ecosystem. From an intuitive dashboard, the staff members have the ability to:
  • See who is at the door and understand why they are there with 5MP video and two-way audio.
  • Remotely lock and unlock doors through a mobile app or web browser.
  • Take intercom calls away from the desk.
  • Specify who, when or how staff and teachers should be contacted with smart call routing.
  • Gain a vantage point for edge-based video insights – including Person of Interest alerts.

Automate emergency response with Alarms

If a Person of Interest match is found, the call receiver can quickly take appropriate action with emergency response tools such as panic buttons. By adding Alarms to Cameras:
  1. Monitoring agents will immediately review the video footage associated with an alarm trigger to determine if there is a visible threat on-campus.
  2. If there is a legitimate threat, the monitoring agent will immediately contact the District’s call list. Jamie may also choose to have agents directly contact emergency services.
  3. If there is no visible threat, the agent will dismiss the incident, helping to minimize false alarms.
As Jamie incorporates feedback from the School Board into the District’s emergency response plan, she is exploring ways to relay vital information as fast as possible – while safeguarding student identities. To protect privacy, Verkada provides features such as Face Blur, role-based permissions, privacy regions and robust audit logs. People analytics features are also turned ‘OFF’ by default, and after opting in, only authorized users may enable or view analytics on a given device. She notes, “We are able to detect and respond quickly to incidents, while being mindful and protective of student privacy.”

Enable real-time monitoring without onsite guards

Although the security firm suggested deploying guard boxes to greet everyone who comes on campus, hiring onsite guards for this purpose would be cost-prohibitive and divert resources from school programs. Alternatively, with Verkada, designated administrators can:
  • Leverage computer vision technology on cameras to identify meaningful events.
  • Secure parking lots with advanced AI analytics and Vehicle of Interest alerts.
  • Monitor and respond to alerts across any device from Command’s web or mobile platform.
  • Greet anyone who comes on campus with Verkada Guest, and operationalize the process with Intercom and Access Control.
  • Stream up to 300 live feeds on the VX52 Viewing Station across safe zones in each school.
“We can prioritize active areas and monitor multiple feeds at once – entrances, exits and hallways. Whoever is making the 911 call can quickly assess and relay real-time information to emergency dispatch.”
Verkada’s intuitive interface is also designed to be simple and easy to use, so teams across the district have been able to quickly learn the system and independently resolve incidents without the help of IT. “You simply open the software platform and everything makes sense. Our team was up and running almost instantly with no training needed.”

Protect technology and student wellness with Air Quality Sensors

In server rooms housing critical IT infrastructure, Air Quality Sensors monitor and detect environmental changes indicative of HVAC or equipment malfunction – including spikes in temperature, sudden loud noise and rises in PM2.5 or TVOCs. If conditions deviate beyond pre-set thresholds, a SMS notification goes out to IT and maintenance staff. “Instead of manually checking each server room, we have a simple dashboard with all our sensor readings right in Command. If anything unusual occurs, we’re alerted before it can escalate.”
Although sensors are able to detect the presence of smoke and vape emissions, Jamie emphasizes that the intention is not to catch students in the act. Rather than punishment, their focus is on intervention and providing students with a program to learn about the dangers of vaping. When the Vape Index unexpectedly spiked on a Saturday while students were taking the SAT, it was a discovery that opened up important conversations and informed intervention strategies.
“You might assume that a student taking an SAT who's college-bound wouldn’t engage in risk-taking behaviors, but what it told us is our most successful students might be driven by stress and anxiety. The question then becomes, ‘how can we help them?’”

Take a granular approach to lockdown strategy with Access Control

“Our teachers can safely lock classroom doors from the inside, instead of having to swipe their badges from outside the classroom.”
Jamie leverages Verkada’s Schlage lock integration with Allegion to:
  • Expand Verkada Access Control capabilities deeper into buildings.
  • Cost-effectively secure more classrooms and interior doors.
  • Increase visibility with integrated Verkada Cameras.
  • Centralize door management to an intuitive, cloud-managed platform.
  • Quickly detect and view access events (Tailgate Detected, Door Forced/Held Open, Access Denied).
  • Simplify credential management and automate user provisioning.
Door access during a lockdown can also be restricted to only certain personnel — such as first responders — to prevent unauthorized entry. Although a one-tap lockdown is possible, Jamie is mindful of her strategy to prevent students from being locked out in an emergency. She is exploring some options and use cases to enable granular control for key decision-makers by site, “We have the option to create custom lockdown scenarios building-by-building or floor-by-floor through Access Groups.”

Create a safe and welcoming environment with Guest

“Physical safeguards such as cameras are important at the point of execution, but the human factor is important to detect threats early and stop them before 911 has to be called.”
Beyond physical security hardware, visitor management was at the top of Jamie’s 60 items to solve for. With the cloud-based Guest software, she modernizes the check-in experience and creates an inviting experience for visitors, while improving front-desk operations and security. When Jamie demoed Guest’s capabilities – which include touchless sign-in, remote door unlock, optional security screens and integration with student information systems (SIS) – she knew Verkada was the right system to scale and support their long-term safety plan.
“Seeing how Verkada is solving challenges like visitor management and communications – not just video security pain points – was an indicator to me of the future potential for development.”

Looking ahead: Intercom for remote tech support

Outside of safety and security, the District has made incredible gains by building campus wellness centers, offering more family therapy and supporting an intervention-based approach. Jamie is continuously finding creative ways to elevate student experiences and convenience with Verkada.
In fact, she is looking to deploy Verkada Intercom in the high school’s Help Lab, where staff and students receive assistance with technology questions. If the support specialist is out of office, Intercom offers a creative way to call in for remote tech support.
“When no one is at the Help Lab to assist in-person, they can ring three to four different people through Intercom and find help remotely.”
She adds, “What we have now has been amazing. We’re trying out new products, and excited to see where it will go.”
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