With increased security a priority for school districts across the country, administrators are taking a close look at their technology to ensure it can deliver in an emergency. Concerns over active shooters and other violent scenarios have districts paying attention and putting heightened security measures in place.

Christopher Lordi, Director of Administrative Services at Delaware Valley School District in rural, northeast Pennsylvania, knew it was time to upgrade his district’s surveillance technology, so he turned to the integration expertise of Guyette Communications to get the job done.

Analogue DVR system The outdoor PTZ cameras that panned back and forth were causing them to miss a lot of activity

The DVR system that covered Delaware Valley’s seven schools and nine buildings was state-of-the-art when it was installed a decade ago, but it was no longer meeting the district’s needs. Administrators complained that is was difficult to view and manage video from all of the cameras as a unified system. The analogue video made it hard to identify faces and see other important details. And the outdoor PTZ cameras that panned back and forth were causing them to miss a lot of activity. “We had a lot of blind spots,” says Chris.

Guyette Communications, of Plymouth, PA, has worked with the district for over a decade supporting its technology needs, so Chris looked to them for guidance. Scott Surochak and Rick Scalzo, both of Guyette, recommended a new-to-market VMS, Vicon’s Valerus, that they felt would provide all the features and performance the district sought in a very cost-effective manner. They also recommended that the district abandon their analogue cameras and standardise district-wide on higher performance, megapixel IP models.

Valerus VMS

The significant expense of replacing not just the VMS system, but hundreds of cameras district-wide, required buy-in from the school board. Rick and Scott, along with Vicon’s regional sales manager, Doug Stadler, provided an in-depth demonstration of the capabilities of Vicon’s new Valerus VMS, along with its line of IQeye Alliance cameras, to the school board. The new system would allow them to clearly identify the faces of visitors, read license plates within the school parking lots, eliminate current blind spots throughout the campuses, and easily search video to quickly find evidence of crime or vandalism. Convinced of the long-term value of the investment, the school board gave a green light to proceed.

Vicon Fixed and Cruiser cameras Approximately 400 cameras were installed throughout the district’s nine buildings, almost all of which are Vicon 3MP IQeye Alliance fixed domes

Installation began in March 2017 and continued throughout the summer. Approximately 400 cameras were installed throughout the district’s nine buildings, almost all of which are Vicon 3MP IQeye Alliance fixed domes. These provide coverage of all entrances to buildings, busy hallways, and spaces like lunchrooms, auditoriums, playgrounds, parking lots and athletic fields. In addition, Vicon Cruiser domes with 30X optical zoom were installed in each parking lot to capture license plates. To support so many high-resolution cameras transmitting at full frame rates, Guyette installed a dedicated security network capable of handling the bandwidth. All cameras are hard wired with new CAT-6 cabling, which feeds back to CISCO switches and a fiber backbone that runs through each building.

Installing security network

To minimise bandwidth transmission between buildings, Guyette recommended that each school locally record video from its respective cameras. The five lower schools have each been equipped with a single Valerus server that both runs VMS application software and performs as an NVR. The middle school and high school, which share a building, have an application server plus four NVRs to support the higher number of cameras. Because the Valerus VMS software makes exclusive use of a thin-client, there was no need to install software on any workstations. Complete user and administrative functionality is available through a standard web browser interface.

Rick says that “Installation went very smoothly. The system works well and it’s easy to navigate and program. I’m used to systems where we have to do everything manually, but with Valerus, it does a lot of things for you. For example, you can copy programming to multiple cameras. Setting up one camera and then copying it to 50 others is a huge time saver.” 

The system is also really easy to update,” he says. “Two new Valerus versions were released during the months we were doing the installation, and we just had to download it once each time to an application server, and then it was automatically pushed out to all the other servers on the network.

Efficient crime detection Two new Valerus versions were released during the months we were doing the installation, and we just had to download it once each time to an application server"

There isn’t a lot of criminal activity in the Delaware Valley School District, thanks to outreach programs that create a collaborative relationship between the school police force, administrators, students and parents. However, sometimes issues do occur, and Valerus has already helped the district solve a theft.

Chris describes an incident that occurred while the system was still being installed in the spring of 2017. “There was a theft from one of the administrative offices. The employee thought the office had been locked, but our surveillance video was able to show that it was not and displayed the comings and goings of everyone who entered the office during the time in question. The video quality was so clear that the thief’s face could be identified. The footage was turned over to the local police who were able to apprehend the thief and recover the stolen property. With our old VMS system, the video wouldn’t have provided enough detail for us to identify the culprit.

High-end video surveillance

Chris says he’d love to say that Valerus’ “museum search” made it possible to find the incriminating video in minutes. However, because the system was just getting installed, not all features were operational yet and his police force had to manually look through hours of video. “The officers are really looking forward to being able to use the search function in the future, now that we’re all up and running. They love how you can draw a box over an area of the video where you know something has happened, and Valerus will do all the work for you,” he says.

In speaking about response to crimes and emergencies, Rick adds that because Valerus uses a thin client, the school district has the luxury of easily providing outside law enforcement with access to their system. If they ever needed help from local or state police, like in an active shooter situation, administrators can provide them with a link to the district’s network so that they can better coordinate a response. This would have been impossible with their old system.

Ensuring Valerus system’s functionality The VMS thin-client interface allows the officers to view video from anywhere, including on their phones or tablets

Unusual for a district of its size, Delaware Valley has its own, full-time, six-person police force. Among other responsibilities, this force is tasked with monitoring the new Valerus system. Each officer has been equipped with his or her own workstation from which they can monitor the cameras physically located at their assigned schools. Administrators at each building also have access to view local cameras. In addition, a centrally located, district-wide monitoring station has been set up to make it easy for officers and school officials to keep an eye on the district as a whole.

Rick Scalzo explains that while the VMS thin-client interface allows the officers to view video from anywhere, including on their phones or tablets, his team recommended the purchase of high-performance, manufacturer-certified PC workstations for each officer’s monitoring station. This was to ensure that these computers would have the necessary processing power to display large numbers of high-resolution camera feeds simultaneously. These workstations are hard wired to the network to provide the fastest and most reliable connectivity to the application server. Chris Lordi says that the district has also provided all officers with iPhone 6s, which they use regularly to monitor what’s happening at their buildings.

License plate recognition and PTZ cameras

One of the capabilities that the district required of the new system is the ability to read license plates of vehicles entering or exiting school grounds. Officers are able to take control of the PTZ cameras in each parking lot and zoom in on the plates of any vehicles of interest. This can even be done via the iPhone interface. Chris explains that it has not been necessary to integrate Valerus with any special license plate recognition (LPR) software because his team of police officers has immediate access to databases where they can look up plates as needed. However, this integration is currently available for Valerus customers and can help automate the process for those who need it. 

Intruder detection  They want top-notch safety, and Valerus delivers that"

Chris says that “Our school board takes safety and security very seriously, so for them, this significant investment was justified as soon as we showed them what it can do. They want top-notch safety, and Valerus delivers that. Buy-in from teachers, and the union, who have expressed reservations over the placement of many new cameras that didn’t previously exist, has required additional communication and education. Both Chris and Rick have made it very clear that the upgraded system is not for the purpose of intimidating or keeping closer watch on employees as they perform their daily jobs. Our main concern is thwarting security threats and keeping everybody safe. The additional cameras and new software might help us break up a fight or address bullying issues, but it’s also important for much more serious situations, like dealing with an active shooter or act of terrorism. Now we can use cameras to follow an intruder throughout our buildings, and that can help us keep everyone safe while we apprehend him.” Chris says that “When we put it like that, everyone gets on board.

Counter Terror

Chris is extremely appreciative of the support Guyette Communications has provided throughout this project, including individually training each school principal as their building was completed. “I can’t stress how well Guyette has delivered for us. They’re flexible, reliable and compassionate, and they’ve been a true partner at every step of the way. I’d recommend Guyette to anybody.

With school back in session, and the district’s police force busy implementing its many safety programs, Chris looks forward to another school year without any major security incidents. However, with a new Valerus system and high-resolution cameras in place, he knows he now has not only the right people but the right technology to handle any crisis.

Download PDF version

In case you missed it

Enhance traditional security systems within your smart home
Enhance traditional security systems within your smart home

Market dynamics are changing the U.S. residential security market, creating new business models that better appeal to the approximately 70% of households without a security system. Smart home adjacencies have helped revitalise the traditional security industry, and alternative approaches to systems and monitoring for the security industry are emerging, including a new batch of DIY systems. Growth in the residential security market and its position as the channel for smart home solutions have attracted numerous new entrants. Telecoms, cable operators, and CE (consumer electronics) manufacturers are joining traditional security players as they compete to fulfill consumer demand for safety and security. Connected products also provide a layer of competition as consumers must decide whether having category devices such as doorbell video cameras, networked cameras, and other products suffice for their security. Increasingly competitive landscape Smart home services can provide additional revenue streams for the security industry For instance, IP cameras are a highly popular smart home device rooted in security, and Parks Associates estimates 7.7 million standalone and all-in-one networked/IP cameras will be sold in the U.S. in 2018, with $889M in revenues. Product owners may feel their security needs are fulfilled with this single purchase, as such dealers and service providers are under increasing pressure to communicate their value proposition to consumers. Categorically, each type of player is facing competition uniquely—national, regional, and local dealers all have a different strategy for overcoming the increasingly competitive landscape. Smart home services can provide additional revenue streams for the security industry. In Parks Associates’ 2017 survey of U.S. security dealers, 58% report that smart home service capabilities enable extra monthly revenue. Almost half of dealers also note they have to offer smart home devices and services in order to keep up with their competition. While white-label devices are acceptable in some instances, dealers need to integrate with hero products whenever possible when those exist for a category. For dealers who have added smart home devices and services are all potential benefits and good for business Improved customer engagement That 2017 survey also revealed 36% of security dealers that offer interactive services report security system sales with a networked camera and 16% report sales with a smart thermostat. For dealers who have added smart home devices and services, enhanced system utility, increased daily value, and improved customer engagement with the system are all potential benefits and good for business. Security has served as the most productive channel for smart home solutions, mainly because the products create natural extensions of a security system’s functions and benefits, but as smart home devices, subsystems, and controllers expand their functionality, availability, and DIY capabilities, many standalone devices constitute competition to classical security. Particularly viable substitute devices include IP cameras, smart door locks, smart garage doors, or a combination of these devices. Products that are self-installed offer both convenience and cost savings, and these drivers are significant among DIY consumers—among the 6% of broadband households that installed a security system themselves, 39% did it to save money. Enhance traditional security Self-installable smart home devices may resonate with a segment of the market who want security While many security dealers believe substitute offerings are a threat, some dealers do not find such devices an existential threat but instead view them as another path to consumer awareness. They argue that the difference between smart product substitutes and traditional security is that of a solution that provides knowledge versus a system that gives one the ability to act on that knowledge. A common theme among professional monitoring providers is that a homeowner who is aware of events happening in the home does not necessarily have a secure and protected household. For example, a Nest camera, a DIY product, notifies a consumer via smartphone about events in the home when it detects motion, but only when the notification is opened and identified will a consumer be able to act on the related event. Self-installable smart home devices may resonate with a segment of the market who want security but are unwilling to adopt professional monitoring; however, providers can leverage these devices to enhance traditional security features and communicate the value of professional monitoring. Smart home devices and features, while posing a threat to some security companies, are a potential way forward to increased market growth Increased market growth A key counterstrategy for security dealers and companies is to leverage their current, powerful role as the prime channel for smart home devices. Many security dealers now include smart home devices with their security systems to complement their offerings and increase system engagement. For example, as of Q4 2017, nearly 70% of U.S. broadband households that were very likely to purchase a security system in the next 12 months reported that they want a camera to be included as part of their security system purchase. In response, many security system providers now offer IP cameras as optional enhancements for their systems. Smart home devices and features, while posing a threat to some security companies, are a potential way forward to increased market growth. Security dealers have an opportunity to become more than a security provider but a smart home solutions provider rooted in safety. Provide status updates Comcast has entered both the professionally monitored security market and the market for smart home services The alternative is to position as a provider of basic security with low price as the key differentiator. Comcast has entered both the professionally monitored security market and the market for smart home services independent of security. It has discovered that monetising smart home value propositions through recurring revenue becomes increasingly challenging as the value extends further away from life safety. Since the security industry remains the main channel for smart home services, security dealers are in a unique position to leverage that strength. Value propositions must shift from the traditional arming and disarming of a system to peace-of-mind experiences that builds off the benefits of smart devices in the home to provide status updates (e.g., if the kids arrived home safely) and monitoring at will (e.g., checking home status at any time to see a pet or monitor a package delivery). These types of clear value propositions and compelling use cases, which resonate with consumer and motivate them to expand beyond standalone products, will help expand the home security market.

What is the value of "free" video management systems?
What is the value of "free" video management systems?

They say that every choice has a cost. It's a basic principle that, economically speaking, nothing is free. If it doesn't cost actual money, it may be expensive in terms of time, attention and/or effort. These are interesting observations to keep in mind as one peruses the various "free" video management system (VMS) offerings available on the market. Some are provided by camera companies to unify their products into a "system", even if it's a small one. Other free VMS offerings are entry-level versions offered by software companies with the intent of the customer upgrading later to a paid version. For more insights, we asked this week's Expert Panel Roundtable: What is the value of “free” video management systems (VMSs) and how can a customer decide whether “free” is the right price for them?

The ongoing challenge of IT and data risk management
The ongoing challenge of IT and data risk management

Managing IT and data risk is a challenging job. When we outsource our IT, applications and data processing to third-parties more and more every day, managing that risk becomes almost impossible. No longer are our data and systems contained within an infrastructure that we have full control over. We now give vendors our data, and allow them to conduct operations on our behalf.  The problem is, we don’t control their infrastructure, and we can never fully look under the hood to understand and vet their ability to protect our data and operations. We have to fully understand how important this issue is, and ensure we have the right governance, processes and teams to identify and mitigate any risks found in our vendors. No longer are our data and systems contained within an infrastructure that we have full control over Today, everything is connected. Our own networks have Internet of Things (IoT) devices.  We have VPN connections coming in, and we aren’t always sure who is on the other end of that connection. It is a full-time job just to get a handle on our own risk. How much harder, and how much larger should our teams and budgets be, to truly know and trust that our vendors can secure those devices and external connections?  For every device and application we have internally, it is very difficult to even keep an accurate inventory. Do all of our vendors have some special sauce that allows them to overcome the traditional challenges of securing internal and vendor-connected networks? They are doing the same thing we are – doing our best with the limited human and financial resources allocated by our organisation. Risk stratification and control objectives  The benefits of outsourcing operations or using a vendor web application are clear. So how can we properly vet those vendors from an IT risk perspective?  The very first thing we need to put in place is Risk Stratification. Risk Stratification presents a few targeted questions in the purchasing process. These questions include – what type of data will be shared? How much of this data? Will the data be hosted by a vendor? Will this hosting be in the US or offshored? Has the vendor ever had a data breach? These questions allow you to quickly discern if a risk assessment is needed and if so, what depth and breadth.  Risk stratification allows you to make decisions that not only improve your team’s efficiency, but also ensure that you are not being a roadblock to the business Risk stratification allows you to make decisions that not only improve your team’s efficiency, but also ensure that you are not being a roadblock to the business. With risk stratification, you can justify the extra time needed to properly assess a vendor’s security.  And in the assessment of a vendor’s security, we have to consider what control objectives we will use. Control objectives are access controls, policies, encryption, etc. In healthcare, we often use the HITRUST set of control objectives. In assessing against those control objectives, we usually use a spreadsheet.  Today, there are many vendors who will sell us more automated ways to get that risk assessment completed, without passing spreadsheets back and forth. These solutions are great if you can get the additional budget approved.  Multi-factor authentication  Even if we are using old-fashioned spreadsheets, we can ensure that the questions asked of the vendor include a data flow and network/security architecture document.  We want to see the SOC2 report if they are hosting their solution in Amazon, etc. If they are hosting it within their own datacentre, we absolutely want to see a SOC2 Type II report. If they haven’t done that due diligence, should that be a risk for you?  Today, we really need to be requiring our vendors to have multi-factor authentication on both their Internet-facing access, as well as their privileged internal access to our sensitive data. I rate those vendors who do not have this control in place as a high risk. We’ve recently seen breaches that were able to happen because the company did not require administrators or DBAs to use a 2-factor authentication into sensitive customer data sources.  In the assessment of a vendor’s security, one has to consider what control objectives to use This situation brings up the issue of risk acceptance. Who in your organisation can accept a high risk? Are you simply doing qualitative risk assessment – high, medium and low risks? Or are you doing true quantitative risk analysis? The latter involves actually quantifying those risks in terms of likelihood and impact of a risk manifesting, and the dollar amount that could impact your organisation.   So is it a million dollars of risk? Who can accept that level of risk? Just the CEO? These are questions we need to entertain in our risk management programs, and socialised within your organisation.  This issue is so important – once we institute risk acceptance, our organisation suddenly starts caring about the vendors and applications we’re looking to engage.  If they are asked to accept a risk without some sort of mitigation, they suddenly care and think about that when they are vetting future outsourced solutions. Quantitative risk analysis involves quantifying risks in terms of likelihood and impact of a risk manifesting Risk management process  In this discussion, it is important to understand how we think of, and present, the gaps we identify in our risk management processes. A gap is not a risk. If I leave my front door unlocked, is that a control gap or a risk? It is a gap – an unlocked door. What is the risk?  The risk is the loss of property due to a burglary or the loss of life due to a violent criminal who got in because the door was unlocked. When we present risks, we can’t say the vendor doesn’t encrypt data. The risk of the lack of encryption is fines, loss of reputation, etc. due to the breach of data. A gap is not a risk.  Once we’ve conducted our risk analysis, we must then ensure that our contracts protect our organisation? If we’re in healthcare, we must determine if the vendor is, in fact, a true HIPAA Business Associate, and if so we get a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) in place. I also require my organisation to attach an IT Security Amendment to these contracts. The IT Security Amendment spells out those control objectives, and requires each vendor to sign off on those critical controls. We are responsible for protecting our organisation’s IT and data infrastructure – today that often means assessing a 3rd-party’s security controls One final note on risk assessments – we need to tier our vendors. We tier them in different ways – in healthcare a Tier 1 vendor is a vendor who will have our patient information on the Internet. Tiering allows us to subject our vendors to re-assessment. A tier 1 vendor should be re-assessed annually, and may require an actual onsite assessment vs. a desk audit. A tier 2 vendor is re-assessed every 2 years, etc. We are responsible for protecting our organisation’s IT and data infrastructure – today that often means assessing a 3rd-party’s security controls. We must be able to fully assess our vendors while not getting in the way of the business, which needs to ensure proper operations, financial productivity and customer satisfaction. If we truly understand our challenge of vendor risk management, we can tailor our operations to assess at the level needed, identify and report on risks, and follow-up on any risks that needed mitigated.