Rural Pennsylvania school district puts a premium on prevention
Rural Pennsylvania school district puts a premium on prevention

Feb 1, 2001 12:00 PM

If you travel 50 miles northwest of Pittsburgh to the rural Riverside-Beaver County school district, you might be surprised to find card readers on the main entrances, surveillance cameras, and computers and phones in every classroom. It is a small, country district but it has put prevention through technology at the head of the class.

The district has more than 2,000 students, 150 teachers and about 80 cafeteria employees. It is comprised of three buildings, set in a middle-class environment, two miles outside of Elwood City, Pa. One building houses the elementary and middle schools, a second building houses the high school and kindergarten and a third building is dedicated to administrative offices.

Riverside installed the Synergistics Wapac access control system as part of a renovation project in 1998. Initially reluctant, the staff and community changed their mind after the Columbine, Colo., school incident exploded across the headlines. The timing of the event hastened the district's efforts and it began laying wires in the school right after the incident and went live with the system in May 1999.

Carolyn Tataseo, Riverside's point person for security, has been an employee at the school for 18 years. She is currently the technology assistant and the go-to person for the access control and badging equipment. She acts as the liaison between Allegheny Safe and Lock, which did the access control and badging, and the district. Tataseo generates all badges for students, faculty and staff.

"I felt that the decision to install access control and to implement a badging system was the correct one right from the beginning. The superintendent was quite progressive and wanted to better the school, and part of bettering the school was making it safer for students and faculty," says Tataseo.

Monitoring ingress and egress The installation of the Wapac and Badgepac systems was handled by Tony DiMino of Allegheny Safe and Lock, Pittsburgh, a Synergistics dealer. DiMino does all the software upgrades. He also handles Tataseo's supply purchases and, according to Tataseo, is available whenever she needs him.

The Wapac system does alarm point monitoring and covers more than 100 doors in the two buildings. The doors, including all perimeter doors, are grouped into eight zones per building, stipulated by the school. The door alarms are time-sensitive. If a door is left ajar, an alarm signals to the dedicated PC after 20 seconds. The software shows on the monitor where the door in violation is located. Each door is wired to a different sensor.

The school is locked down at all times. No one can enter without either swiping a card or being buzzed in - and hence being monitored - by main office staff. Tataseo says, "I really like the badges because they have completely eliminated the comings and goings of students we had before. The students know that they cannot leave the building without being buzzed back in." If a student forgets a class project and wants to retrieve it from her car, she needs to inform the main office staff.

Tataseo also likes that she can come to work early and swipe herself in without having to flag down a custodian. "We have a lot of teachers who work late. They know that they can come early or stay late without compromising the security of the facility," she says.

Each site consists of a communications controller and a quad-reader controller. Each building contains four readers for a total of eight readers in the district.

Badging provides ID, access control and lunch Student IDs contain bar codes that correspond to unique student numbers. Once assigned, a number stays with a student throughout his academic career in the district. In addition to a bar code on the front of the card, the badges also depict the head of a panther, the school mascot.

The school photographer provided student photos on a CD the first time Tataseo made the badges in the fall of 1999. The photos were in JPEG format, and were encoded with each student's unique ID number. The student information was provided in an Excel spread sheet to which additional fields were added. The data was then exported to the Wapac database. Tataseo finds it faster now to take the photos and make the badges herself. The photos are updated periodically to reflect changes in the students' appearances.

The teachers' badges are made on a different template and do not contain bar codes. Faculty and staff use the badges for access control. Different colors distinguish the teachers' cards from the students and staff. The single-sided cards are already laminated and are printed using dye sublimation.

The readers in each building include a keypad, providing a double layer of security. Tataseo sets access times for the cards and assigns a numbered passcode to each card. Access is granted by need - if a teacher has no need to enter the other building, he or she will not be granted access.

In the elementary school, each student has an ID badge, but the badges are kept by the teachers and distributed at lunchtime. The younger students use the badges in the cafeteria and do not need to carry money.

The badges are printed on an Eltron P310 card printer with magnetic encoder. The badges feature a mag stripe that is not currently used for access control. The school does no automated time-and-attendance but may do so in the future.

Tataseo has a dedicated Compaq computer for badging.

She sometimes uses a mobile cart, consisting of the PC and the printer, to take ID photos. She travels with her cart to the other building to take the pictures for the elementary and middle schools, using a Vivitar CCD Z14 camera. A special room is set up to take the photos.

In the cafeteria, students use their IDs to connect to a point-of-sale debit system called Cafeterminal, manufactured by Comalex, Naples, Fla. Parents send in funds that are credited to each child's account. The software runs on Windows. When the child swipes his ID card through the Cafeterminal reader, his face appears on the monitor, and the transaction is processed. The bar code assigned to each student is compatible with the Cafeterminal software. Students also use the ID's in the library.

Wapac and Badgepac share a database of users. The common database is on the host PC's network. Since the student and teacher information is stored in the database, rebadging is not a problem. Riverside hopes to further integrate the two products.

Each classroom has a phone installed by Sprint that connects to an outside line. In addition, every teacher has a computer in the classroom to provide access to the school's server.

Stemming the flow of people At the entrance to each building, an intercom and a camera greet potential visitors. A Panasonic Super Dynamic camera at the main door is positioned to provide a snapshot of the person who buzzes. The camera can compensate for various lighting situations. The buzzer rings in the main office, and the image captured by the camera appears on a monitor. If the visitor is unknown - not a parent, for example - the secretary, who has a monitor and an intercom at her work station, can use the intercom to interrogate the visitor. If entrance is permitted, the secretary buzzes to release the mag-lock on the main door. Upon entrance, the visitor must stop in the main office to collect his visitor ID.

The visitor badge is not as complex as the IDs used by students and teachers. It is a plastic tag which reads "visitor." Once the visitor is permitted to enter the building, he must sign in. The badge provides access only to a single building.

CCTV covers wide area and captures it all The CCTV system was installed in the beginning of 1999 by Guardian Protection Services, Pittsburgh. According to Marc Mook, the project engineer and sales consultant who laid out the Riverside installation, the district wanted to cover as much of the school as possible with cameras. The district originally installed 96 Panasonic cameras to cover the classrooms, the hallways, the entrances and the perimeter. The school especially wanted to cover the cafeteria, the kindergarten, and the server room. The server room, protected by a Radionics 7212 security panel, is also where the CCTV headend is located. The system includes eight Panasonic WJFS 616 multiplexers and six Panasonic VCRs.

Mook met twice with the Riverside school board to elicit feedback as he designed the system. The school is outfitted with three types of cameras. The outdoor cameras are black-and-white WVBP334, which allow a lower light level. The indoor cameras, which cover mostly hallways and stairwells. are Panasonic color WVCP 234 cameras. The main entrances use Panasonic Super Dynamic WVCP 554 cameras which can provide sharp images more easily through the glass doors.

The cameras have dome housings. Mook explains that the school did not want the students to know which direction a camera was facing.

The CCTV system provides valuable event recording. If an incident occurs, Tataseo goes back to the tape. According to Mook, "The school wanted to be able to review the tapes in the event of an incident. In fact, the very first day the system went live, a student was caught on camera making a deviant gesture to a teacher. So it has worked right from the start to give the school a way to monitor student actions."

Tataseo remembers the deviant gesture very well. "I really appreciate the presence of the cameras. It took a while for the students to understand that the cameras were working, and they were being monitored. The student who made the gesture to the camera did not know the camera was taping. When he was asked about his behavior, he denied it. So we said, `Okay let's go to the tape.' Needless to say, he was a little surprised that we had caught him on camera."

Fiber-optic lines carry the images from the cameras at the elementary and middle schools to the head-end at the high school. The system includes a Panasonic WJNT 104 network interface which has its own IP address. Administrators can dial in this address on the school's local network and call up a multiplexer to view live images. Six VCRs record continuously. The tapes are changed each day and stored for a month.

Cameras act as deterrent According to Tataseo, the presence of cameras in the schools has had a significant effect on discipline problems. "Discipline problems have declined now that we have the cameras. The cameras act as a deterrent." The security measures have also had an impact on the peace of mind of parents. "The parents are very happy because they know their children are safer and the school can monitor what goes on during the school day," she adds.

Riverside would like eventually to add more cameras and possibly go digital with its CCTV system.

Tataseo concludes: "The cameras are always taping and we know who comes and goes. This was the right decision."

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