Gone are the days when playground safety was the chief security concern in schools. In the wake of Columbine and Sandy Hook, educational institutions are increasingly adopting security systems that enable them to respond to various emergencies in real time. This is causing the market for school security system integration to rise by more than 80 percent from 2012 to 2017, according to “Vertical Insights: Video Surveillance & Security in Education,” a report released by IHS Electronics & Media.


“Currently, the trend is to continue to expand the integration of the various electronic physical security system components into a comprehensive security management system,” said John Tesdall, senior consultant/systems designer for Hughes Associates Inc., Baltimore. 


In addition to creating an integrated security system at the school site level, systems are including district-wide network security management capabilities, plus informational integration with school administrative system software.


“Additionally, the academic world is allowing law enforcement to have greater limited ready access to the security management system for better responses and real-time assessment of incidents in progress,” Tesdall said. 


So, for example, a responding law enforcement unit can be granted real-time access to the school’s video surveillance system through a local Wi-Fi or mesh network through its PC link or even a tablet. The responding unit can view the area live to more quickly assess the situation. (Mesh networking is a type of network topology where each node must not only capture and disseminate its own data, but also serve as a relay for other nodes. That is, it must collaborate to propagate the data in the network.)


Particular attention over the last year has been placed on school entrances and emergency preparedness, said Mark Bomber, director of core commercial marketing for Tyco Integrated Security, Boca Raton, Fla.


“For K–12 schools, the first line of defense is controlling who can enter the school,” he said. 


As a result, solutions like intercoms with video and visitor management systems that are tied to external background check databases are being considered a basic requirement. Higher education facilities, however, are further along in their security planning with more sophisticated video systems that enable management, archiving and automated alerts sent to security personnel. 


“In addition, remote video access and integration with mobile devices is increasingly prevalent as more personnel use smart devices for their daily tasks,” Bomber said.


Mission accomplished


To meet the goal of increased campus security, schools are integrating a number of technologies, including intercoms with video capabilities, which enable officials to see who is requesting access; panic buttons in classrooms with video to enable educators to quickly assess a potential situation; visitor management systems with external databases that perform real-time checks on visitors and contractors wanting to enter the facility; and access control and burglar alarm systems with video that monitor anyone surrounding designated areas.


“In addition,” Bomber said, “integrators have started making these solutions available via mobile phone applications so officials can access and manage their security systems from anywhere.”


These integrated security system components communicate mainly through IP networks and/or area mesh networks, rather than through standard analog coaxial cable or fiber optics for transmission functions.


“The benefit of this high-tech security system integration is to provide a greater measure of safety through increased efficiency and greater flexibility and accountability without significant increases in investment costs and manpower,” Tesdall said.


Many electrical contractors can learn the market. However, for ECs new to this market, there are oppoctunities in both new construction and in existing facilities to partner with an experienced security integrator if needed. With this partnership, the EC can perform the electrical wiring for fire alarm and other security system components.


“A typical electrical job scope can potentially be expanded to include security system design and implementation,” Bomber said.


To succeed, however, contractors must understand that security is not just a system or systems that feed a need. Rather, it is a complex, bi-
directional, interoperative integration of systems, most of which use sensitive electronic devices that interface with each other using software.


“The proper installation of these systems, therefore, is critical to the overall effectiveness and reliability of the system,” Tesdall said.


In addition, the electrical contractor needs to understand that one size does not fit all and that each school has different needs, resources, budgets and overall approaches.


“The most important step is to truly understand the school’s requirements and working with the administration to establish both near- and long-term goals. A comprehensive security assessment, paired with this in-depth dialogue with school administrators, is critical at the onset of a school security system implementation to properly design the integrated system,” Bomber said.