We recently sat down with Bruce Canal, Segment Development Manager, Education, Axis Communications, Inc. to discuss school safety and security, the impact of COVID-19 and the role of ‘single point of entry’ – a security model schools can adapt to keep staff and students safer.
Whether threats from an active assailant or the scourge of COVID-19, this past year has forced K-12 administrators to think differently about how they protect their schools.
“No one wants a school to be a prison,” says Bruce Canal, Segment Development Manager, Education, Axis Communications, Inc. “But we’re starting to see more school officials directing their resources toward making their schools a fortress.”
Canal cites the growing trend of administrators deploying technology to prevent threats rather than simple record and respond after an event has already occurred. In addition to video cameras and access control technology, schools are deploying intelligent audio systems to deter intruders and analytics to give administrators early warning of potential problems.
But perhaps one of the most proactive strategies to arise in recent times is the policy of what’s called ‘single point of entry.’
The policy, Canal explains, calls for the school to keep all its exterior doors locked and funnel everyone to the main entrance where they can be screened or use their credentials to gain entrance.
“It’s important to keep in mind, however, that single point of entry only works when everyone understands there can be no exception,” cautions Canal. “Everyone must go through the main door.” He points to a tragic incident where an assailant tapped on a side door and was innocently let in by someone who had no idea the individual was armed.
Where policy and technology meet
For a robust single point of entry strategy to work effectively, it needs to be supported by the right technology. Canal suggests this list includes:
- High-resolution surveillance cameras to capture critical details of activity in and around the school
- An intuitive video management system to preserve video quality of an event and provide forensic recovery of critical footage
- An access control system to regulate all exterior doors with the ability to remotely unlock in case of emergency
- Audiovisual door stations/intercoms at the main entrance and any other entry point that regularly receives visitors (such as delivery doors) so that individuals can be vetted before gaining entrance to the building
- Two-way audio speakers capable of listening at all entrances and allowing administrators to address a live situation, broadcast a prerecorded message to visitors upon arrival, or address trespassers after school hours
- Audio and video analytics to provide school staff with greater situational awareness so they can intervene more quickly and prevent a potential problem from escalating
Reducing opportunities for incidents of injury or fatality
“Being entrusted with the safety and well-being of students, teachers and staff is a huge responsibility,” says Canal. “It’s led administrators to think more creatively about school security and demand more from their technology partners.”
“The goal should be to detect and prevent problems when you can and mitigate their impact when you can’t. This can be simpler to accomplish when all of your systems’ components work seamlessly together,” says Canal.
From Canal’s perspective, the best way to take safety and security to the next level is for schools to integrate all their technologies into a cohesive end-to-end solution from one manufacturer. “The goal should be to detect and prevent problems when you can and mitigate their impact when you can’t. This can be simpler to accomplish when all of your systems’ components work seamlessly together,” says Canal.
Using Axis Communications technology portfolio as a point of reference, Canal says the first step is to deploy high resolution network cameras around the perimeter to view every possible entry point where an intruder might attempt to gain entrance. “You want to be able to see if an intruder is hanging around a door waiting for someone to exit the building so they can sneak in, or tailgate, before the door closes,” says Canal. “Tailgating is an easy way for anyone with bad intentions to illegally enter the building without having to interact with anyone. Having cameras help schools detect those situations can ensure staff and law enforcement can quickly take action before the individual can do harm.”
“Network cameras that are equipped with the latest analytics can give you a heads up that something is about to happen,” shares Canal. He points to several video analytics on the market that trigger an alert if someone is detected loitering around the building after school hours. Others can detect whether an assailant is carrying a firearm and trigger an alert. There are also audio analytics that detect when someone is screaming in fright or recognize a weapon discharging and automatically calls the police, ensuring a faster response than waiting for staff to call 9-1-1.
“Integrating intelligent network audio with the cameras and analytics gives schools another tool for deterring threats,” says Canal. For instance, if the cameras and analytics detect someone attempting to vandalize or break into the school, it could trigger a warning message. “Often a simple soundbite like, ‘You’re under surveillance and the police have been notified,’ is enough to cause a potential perpetrator to flee,” claims Canal.
Canal also points out that network audio can be used to direct visitors to the main entrance should they attempt to gain access to the building from another door.
Reinforcing front door security
At the main entrance, access control technology provides another layer of protection. “Security is all about controlling who you let in the door,” states Canal. With solutions like Axis or 2N audio-visual network intercoms, schools can vet visitors before deciding whether to buzz them into the building.
“Installing an access control system at the front door can also eliminate the problem of lost keys,” Canal points out. In the past, if a key were lost the school would have to re-core the doors to ensure that key couldn’t be used by some random person to break into the school.
“Products like 2N network intercom solutions use access cards. So, if a card is lost or stolen the school can simply delete the card from the system so no one can use it,” explains Canal. Should the school decide that it would like even greater security, it can implement a two-step authentication, requiring users to enter a pin code in addition to swiping their access card.
Another option that schools have at their disposal is low touch access control solutions from Axis and 2N. While this technology has been around for quite some time, they’ve gained considerable attention during the pandemic. A lot of existing access control systems utilize card readers that require the use of a pin code to enter. Facilities that are trying to mitigate the spread of germs might combat this by taking advantage of Bluetooth or QR codes for visitors. And for a true touchless solution, automatic door openers can be added. However, the per-door pricing on these systems could be prohibitive for some school budgets.
“AXIS Camera Station includes a new feature—AXIS Camera Station Secure Entry—that lets schools manage their video surveillance and access control from a single, user-friendly interface in the AXIS Camera Station,” explains Canal.
To manage all this technology as one cohesive end-to-end solution, schools would also need to install an intuitive video management system like AXIS Camera Station. “AXIS Camera Station includes a new feature—AXIS Camera Station Secure Entry—that lets schools manage their video surveillance and access control from a single, user-friendly interface in the AXIS Camera Station,” explains Canal.
The intuitive interface of AXIS Camera Station allows system administrator to easily add or remove users with a simple drag and drop operation and set up access rules based on a specific cardholder, location, and schedule. This makes it easy to control who has access to the school building and when.
Linking other Axis core system components—such as video recorders, door controllers, readers, intercoms, speakers, and security cameras—with AXIS Camera Station gives facility and security managers a complete security solution that’s tested and validated to work seamlessly together.
Canal also suggests schools complement this security technology with traditional signage and education to ensure people adhere to a single point of entry.
“Signage and education are other important things to consider when instituting a single point of entry policy,” says Canal. He recommends that schools post signs on all exterior doors directing visitors to the main entrance. He also advises administrators to incorporate school safety programs into the curriculum and reinforce the message with regular reminders to students, faculty, and staff against opening exterior doors to anyone.
“Students and staff are as much a part of a school’s frontline defense as the technology being deployed,” he emphasizes.
Financing proactive security measures
With so many school districts strapped for money, funding new technology investments and programs might seem out of reach. However, in 2021 the federal government passed an economic stimulus package—the CARES Act—which earmarked funding to schools that can be used to finance these types of projects.
Canal told of one school customer who financed several hundred cameras through the CARES Act by using the cameras to contract trace people entering the building who may have come in contact with a student who had contracted COVID-19. “They justified the camera purchase as a way to prevent the spread of the virus,” said Canal. “They even made a business case for adding analytics to help them count people and ensure students maintained social distance since it was all COVID-19 related.”
Schools can apply for CARES Act monies through December 2024.