For the quality of the educational experience as well as the safety of the students, it’s important that schools view safety as the highest priority. Administrators need to closely examine the security options available to them in the video surveillance marketplace. They should begin with a thorough look at what network-based video technology can do in the community’s local educational facilities, compared to traditional analog systems.

Today, the industry is in the middle of a paradigm shift as it slowly gravitates from analog video systems to digital Internet protocol (IP). Use of IP-based video is on the rise, and nowhere else in society is this new flavor of video surveillance as well received.

According to Peter Boriskin, vice president of product management for Tyco International’s Access Control and Video Systems, IP’s current market share is roughly 15 percent.

Erron Spalsbury, account manager with 3xLogic, Westminster, Colo., said his company sees a growing interest in IP.

“About 80 percent of every DVR [digital video recorder] we sell records video from at least one IP camera,” Spalsbury said.

Use of network-based video

Since the 1950s, security companies have installed and serviced analog cameras in educational facilities as well as in commercial, industrial and retail markets. For the most part, analog technology has served the industry well, but since the introduction of computer networking in education, the number of IP video installations has more than doubled each year.

In a growing number of schools, colleges and universities, IP cameras allow officials to better track and identify suspicious individuals as they enter and leave facilities. IP cameras allow administrators to monitor parking lots, sidewalks and critical entrances with greater clarity and efficiency.

When real-time observation is not feasible, IP video allows images to be recorded on an assortment of digital media for later review. Network video offers the advantage of capturing real-time events as they happen and storing them on a computer hard drive. And because of megapixel imagers, IP video has the ability to record images in near-to-life resolution.

Because of their digital nature, images from an IP camera also can be easily exported for law enforcement use without degrading image quality. A watermark within the digital framework of each image verifies its authenticity. This is especially important when video images are removed as evidence to use in a court of law.

Megapixel IP cameras also allow schools to do more with fewer employees, which is important to cash-strapped institutions. Through the use of live and recorded video, the number of security personnel can often be reduced and replaced with IP video cameras. Instead of a school full of security officers, many educational facilities can effectively function with a handful.

Digital IP vs. analog cameras

An IP camera is designed to connect to a computer network or a recording device, such as a DVR, network video recorder, network attached storage or some other method of image retention. With an IP camera, this is accomplished using a Category 5e or 6 cable with eight-position modular plugs. An analog camera, in contrast, uses a coaxial cable plus a second cable for power.

IP cameras are assigned a unique address for identification purposes, which is also a feature that separates the technology from analog. This address enables the network to store images in separate folders corresponding to the specific cameras. IP addresses allow networks to associate specific information with each image, such as camera location, date, time, camera type, etc. This enables system operators to readily identify where a scene comes from inside or outside the facility.

In some cases, the network superimposes other data onto an image, such as cash register transaction information. Because it’s in a digital format, advanced searches can be conducted using any number of criteria. For a good example, consider the retail side of a college or university, such as a book store or cafeteria. Data from credit cards or other identification credentials can be used to locate a student in real time or through recorded video. Integration with other subsystems, such as access control, enables school officials to review an audit trail of student and staff member activities, reviewing images from nearby cameras in the process.

Another difference between IP and analog cameras is the format used to send image information over a wire. Conventional cameras use the National Television Standards Council (NTSC) standard, commonly referred to as composite video. A conventional video camera bundles everything needed to create an image within a single composite signal. This signal contains lumina (brightness/contrast) and chroma (image color) information as well as synchronization pulses for display scanning control. The typical bandwidth of a composite video signal is 6 MHz at 1 volt peak-to-peak. This is a lot of information that must be carried by the analog signal; therefore, a lot can be lost through electromagnetic interference.

Digital IP-based data is not as prone to outside interference as analog because it’s easier for the head-end system to detect the two voltage states of a digital data signal than the nearly infinite number of frequencies used in an analog signal. This makes digital IP more robust than analog, especially in locations experiencing a high-level of radio frequency interference, such as airports and industrial plants.

It is easier to place intelligence on the edge of the network using IP cameras than with analog. Software can be added to provide video analytics, e-mail and more. Some IP cameras have a built-in Web server, which adds a degree of redundancy to any video surveillance system. If something happens to the main method of image recording, relevant images may still exist.

Adding cameras to an existing infrastructure

Another advantage to using IP cameras is the relative ease with which they can be added to an existing local area network (LAN). Most educational facilities have a LAN installed throughout the buildings. This eliminates the need to install coaxial and power cables from one end of each building to the other, which must be done when installing analog cameras. Not only does this save time, but it also saves money because installers do not have to contend with the same amount of metallic cable.

“In this environment, where cost is a significant driver, being able to use the existing infrastructure allows us to reduce the installation cost to the customer,” Spalsbury said. “And not only is the wire (Category 5e) cheaper when it comes time to install a network, but it’s easier to pull. And it makes it easier and faster to expand when needed. In addition, IP technology makes it possible to record multiple facilities on the enterprise level and to do so using megapixel-type cameras.”

Not only do IP cameras use Category 5e or 6 cable, which is generally cheaper than coaxial, but sometimes the choice can be between installing a $700 megapixel camera with a 6-foot extension cord to a network’s wall outlet to get a robust, high-resolution picture or paying an installer $500 to run new coaxial cable the entire distance of a school for analog. IP video also allows for rapid deployment where there is an existing network, something educational facilities may need as security requirements change.

“An environment like that of a school is constantly changing and so will their need for covert and overt camera placement,” Boriskin said. “An IP video strategy allows for much easier camera movement.”

Balancing the need for IP video

Opponents of IP-based video cameras maintain that such a pie-in-the-sky approach to video surveillance is not worth the cost. Ask some information technology (IT) managers, and they may say attaching IP cameras to a school’s network isn’t practical because the cameras require a lot of bandwidth.

While it is true that not every school requires megapixel quality video, those that use one say you can’t have too much resolution when it comes to proving your case in court.

“The most compelling reason to use IP is the simplest one: don’t send 12 hours of an empty stairwell at 3 MB per second. Use the camera as a gate-keeper so only interesting video is sent,” Boriskin said.

In this case, when a camera is first installed, it will send a complete image of the stairwell. After that, only those pixels that have changed are sent to the head-end.

Although digital high-resolution cameras may not be ideal for every application, they are a potent new tool in the security expert’s bag of tricks.

COLOMBO is a 33-year veteran in the security and life safety markets. He is director with FireNetOnline.com and a nationally recognized trade journalist in East Canton, Ohio. Reach him at abc@alcolombo.us.