In an increasingly uncertain world, there is one thing over the past decade that has shown no signs of wavering within the education sector – proliferation of CCTV systems!
Schools are under increasing pressure every day on a wide variety of issues, including teacher standards, facilities, amenities and infrastructure, class sizes, theft, damage to property, school yard (and now classroom) bullying, interloping strangers, and, more recently, terrorism.
As a consequence, school managers are turning to IP digital technology such as CCTV to help identify and respond to these ever increasing threats.
No longer is the question ‘should we or shouldn’t we install CCTV’ but rather how much can we install.
CCTV coverage within schools now range from small six-camera systems recording entry and exit points, up to 80-camera systems covering common areas, corridors, playgrounds, locker bays, bike storage sheds, carparks and admin offices.
Thankfully, Australian schools have not been subjected to the same threats often seen on the news, largely out of the United States. Since 2004, there have been almost 340 deaths of students and staff in schools in the US, with the majority being caused by ‘Lone Wolf’ active shooters. One of the most tragic was the ‘Sandy Hook Elementary School’ massacre in December 2012 which claimed the life of 20 children and six staff.
The statistical profile of offenders indicates they are disenfranchised young men with a history of trauma, bullying, academic challenges, and exposure to violent videos and games. Whilst Australia does not have the gun culture threat, other potential perpetrators, such as non-custodial parents, pose significant risks to school environments, as do more recent threats to specific cultural and religious-based schools.
Whilst external threats to schools by thieves, vandals and weapon carrying criminals receives regular attention by police and media, internal threats such as bullying of both children and staff are equally common in some schools but are dealt with in-house and away from the public scrutiny created by the media, except in the most extreme cases.
Picture this scenario: Billy and Johnny discuss during the lunch break their displeasure about attending the next two periods of Maths with Ms Robinson because it is boring and she often rages when kids muck around. The two boys decide to play a prank on Ms Robinson by setting her up on the internet. After the bell, the two boys enter the classroom where Billy sits in the back left corner and Johnny sits in back right corner of the room. Halfway into the lesson, Johnny starts mucking around shooting paper spit darts out of a pen shell at Ms Robinson when her back is turned. In the meantime, Billy produces his smartphone and films the mayhem as predictably Ms Robinson angrily disciplines the mischievous Johnny. That night, the incident is uploaded to YouTube and by week’s end is the most clicked online video amongst the 950 students at that school.
Such scenarios are not uncommon and are now forcing school managers to consider extending their CCTV coverage into classrooms and other areas previously considered off limits in the school environment.
A recent example of where duty of care for a teacher failed was highlighted in the Victorian Supreme Court when a former Secondary College teacher was awarded more than $1.27 million in damages after developing chronic depression from being forced to teach the worst behaved ‘feral’ students at the school he was working at.
Had CCTV been installed in this workplace at the time, school management would have been able to observe live and recorded footage of alleged incidents then respond with remedial actions in a timely manner to protect their staff and the school’s reputation.
In recent years, the somewhat ‘dark art’ of security was managed by a Security Manager who was often a person with a Police or Military background. However, as security systems move from analogue into the new world of digital, thanks to computer technology, we find ourselves dealing more and more with the IT Manager to ensure our security systems function appropriately. Many would debate about who conjures up more tricky and secretive brews – the Security or IT Manager?
Cat-6 cable, Computer Servers and Power over Ethernet switches are now the backbone for most digital security technology systems such as CCTV, which also utilise wireless and hard wired IP Data communication infrastructure common in almost every workplace and school. As schools juggle ever tightening budgets, using existing infrastructure makes the installation and maintenance of CCTV systems cost effective and technically convenient.
High Definition CCTV cameras now deliver up to 5-million pixels of digital image recording at 25-30 frames per second and with infrared illuminators, usable images of suspicious persons can be recorded at night in vandal/weather resistant housings to protect cameras wherever they are mounted.
Digital technology has also given rise to the world of Advanced Video Analytics. Additional software that runs algorithms on Network Video Recorders (NVR) can enable CCTV systems to not only record images but analyse them for a range of preset outcomes and send instant real-time alerts to authorised stakeholders of breaches or changing in conditions of concern.
Software Analytics can include:
- Facial Recognition – recording ‘Time In Attendance’ of students and staff, and known unauthorised persons entering/leaving school grounds.
- School yard bullying – gatherings of crowds in a single location for extended periods.
- Loitering – potential theft from lockers and storage areas.
- Vehicle Counting.
- Number Plate Recognition.
- Camera Tampering.
- Vehicle Speed Monitoring – car parks and driveways.
- Suspicious Object Detection.
Advanced Video Analytics and Intelligent Video solutions for security and safety applications are constantly being developed to meet growing consumer demands. Most systems are modular and customisable to every environment.
Whilst such technology can be confronting, the benefits, if appropriately engaged and managed, will help protect children and the great many people charged with the responsibility of educating them by helping to catch those who seek to harm or disrupt them.
To believe that we can simply pretend that the level of technology now found in schools, along with changes in societal standards, the proliferation of camera enabled phones and the growth of social media won’t all have an adverse impact on a school, its teachers and students is somewhat naïve. At some point, whether it is tomorrow, next month or has already happened, a school will need to produce evidence of a breaking, assault, harassment or the like. The question has become, can you afford not to have some form of CCTV in your school.