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After a 15-year-old student died after being shot in a Toronto school in May school security has, more than ever, become top-of-mind for administrators. Only a year ago, a gunman stalked into Dawson College in Montreal, killing one woman and wounding another 19 students.

September 7, 2007  By Vawn Himmelsbach

In Winnipeg, one local high school is using cutting edge video surveillance to keep students and teachers safe — and, as a result, was able to capture an intruder on the same day it launched the new system.

John Taylor Collegiate, with 40 faculty members and 700 students from Grades 9 to 12, has used video surveillance since 1998. But when Stanley Security Solutions called them up to pilot its latest VIP X video management system, an enterprise-level digital video recorder (DVR), the school jumped on board.
“Unfortunately we have to have cameras in our schools,” says Tom Tarrant, vice-principal at John Taylor Collegiate. “It’s kind of sad, but it’s 2007 and it’s for student safety.”

In Manitoba, teachers often have to take the role of being parents when the parents aren’t there, so this is one way for people like Tarrant to do that.

Previously, a system like this would have cost around $20,000 — now it’s about $5,000. “And the quality is much better for school systems that don’t have a lot of disposable cash,” he says. It features support for mega-pixel cameras, extended internal storage capacity (up to nine terabytes) and pre-motion recording.
Students have been educated about the system, and told that it’s not meant to track them, but to protect them. “I’m very honest with the kids,” says Tarrant. “I hark back to [the school shootings at] Columbine and Taber, Alta.” He’s shown the students video clips so they can see how the system works and have confidence in it. Now students come to him for things like petty theft.


The system has four hard drives and stores video for about 28 days (or 22 using high resolution). On each of four screens, there are six cameras in full video mode, and each screen can be set up differently. In this case, Tarrant has one big camera image in the middle of the screen and five smaller images around it so he can more clearly see the entrance and exits to the school.

The system can also be viewed live on the Internet. “If I didn’t have a life, I could watch from the house,” says Tarrant. In the short term, he’s looking to add a few more cameras and use more Web functionality. “The learning curve on this is pretty small,” he added. “My boss is not a tech guy and I have him using it all the time.”

John Taylor Collegiate is one of the first organizations to test out the new version of VIP, says Adrian Dobrisan, global product line manager with Stanley Security Solutions in Indianapolis. At press time, it was expected to be commercially available by the end of the summer.

The system is in operation at 20 of the 30 schools within the St. James-Assiniboia educational system in
Manitoba, though John Taylor Collegiate is the only one running VIP X. The other schools have mixed systems, mainly running older VIP systems.

VIP X is a completely reengineered version of the product, based on a different architecture called “IP distributed.” This means it’s modular, and the modules can reside on a single machine or different machines or in different combinations.

“You can make the product adapt to whatever conditions the customer has at the site,” says Dobrisan. Colleges and universities, for example, typically have large campuses with multiple buildings.
These buildings may have different functions, with different requirements for video surveillance.
A parking lot would require a different type of camera than an entryway to a building — and these differences could range from the type of enclosure to the type of compression or resolution of the camera. “You’d like to have a mega-pixel camera pointing at a parking lot,” he says. “[If] you want to capture licence plates, you need a lot of detail in the picture.”

In a controlled environment inside a building, you may not need that level of resolution, he says, since you can control where the camera is pointing and focus it on a particular area. “Everything is IP-addressable, regardless of whether you’re using analogue or IP cameras,” says Dobrisan.

The system associates IP to every component, so everything can be distributed on a network. A display manager module allows multiple screens to be managed at the same time; the current version allows up to 64 simultaneous camera views per display manager. The system also addresses disaster recovery, since video can be recorded in two different locations at the same time.

“There is no standardization right now in terms of the interfaces for those IP cameras on the market,” says
Dobrisan. “We’ve tried to support as many as possible so the customer won’t be concerned with what type of camera to use.” The system supports any resolution, as well as different options for compression, depending on bandwidth and storage capacity. It can record up to 30 frames per second, per camera, and runs as a Windows service, meaning the system will boot up without requiring a user logon.

Customers can make use of their existing legacy equipment or buy newer types of cameras. “If the bandwidth is not available then they can decide to go with stronger compression or design the architecture differently.”

Vawn Himmelsbach is a Toronto-based freelance writer.

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