School Security System Case Study: Azusa School District

Just The Facts:

Customer: Azusa School District

Challenge: Securing eight elementary schools, two high schools, an Adult School and Alternative Education program

Solution: Developing an access control and surveillance system that keeps 740 staff members and 7,600 students safe and secure.

Results: State-of-the-art access control and surveillance camera system that keeps staff and students safe and minimizes fighting and other illicit activities. 

School Security System Case Study in Los Angeles County - Azusa Unified School District

Customer Challenge

These days students have more to worry about than getting good grades and fitting in with their peers, and teachers have bigger concerns than just educating their students. Top of mind for both groups is likely safety.

Azusa School District takes such concerns seriously. Its eight elementary schools, two high schools, Adult School, and Alternative Education program are supported by a dedicated staff of almost 740, serving 7,000 students. Every one of these individuals has a right to feel safe and secure as they go about their day, reports Zachary Palmquist, Safe and Sound Security project manager.

But much like every school in the nation, the Azusa School District was not immune to violence from outsiders and building occupants. The district is to the east of crime-ridden Los Angeles and its safety problems have spilled over into the city of 47,000. District leaders were worried about crime, fighting, and active shooters and needed a security system that could deal with all three. 

“They were having issues with fights and unauthorized people wandering on to campuses,” Palmquist explains. “They also had a tremendous problem with students smoking and vaping in high school and middle school restrooms. And of course, every school district worries about active shooters these days.”

Azusa School District prioritizes being proactive, especially with safety concerns. By the time the school connected with Safe and Sound Security, the district had already secured a significant federal grant to enhance school security with surveillance cameras, access control systems, and other advanced technology. 

The school sought a phased approach to security. Their initial request was for comprehensive surveillance coverage in all schools, followed by a demand for smoking and vaping detection systems, and lastly, an updated access control system. 

The Safe and Sound Security team met with district leaders to discover their needs at every site. The resulting system uses the following technologies:

  • Verkada SV23 Air Quality Sensors
  • Verkada Security Cameras with analytics detection capabilities
  • Verkada Visitor Management
  • Verkada Cloud-Managed Access Control
  • Verkada Video Management Software

The project took a while because the team had to secure 12 facilities spread out over 9.7 square miles. The district’s committed staff also extended the time frame. “They wanted to get it right,” he says. 

The Safe and Sound Security team visited each site multiple times over a meticulous planning process that lasted three months. Then they spent another six months on the installation.

“We walked the site many times with Latasha Jamal, the assistant superintendent, and her staff and met with every school principal to learn about their trouble spots and where they wanted cameras,” he says. “Latasha was very particular, but for good reason. She wanted to make sure her staff and students are safe.” 

The presence of cameras and a guest management system has already deterred potential incidents and provided reassurance. Because students know they are being monitored, the occurrence of fights has also significantly decreased, Palmquist adds.

Innovative Surveillance and Analytics

The Safe and Sound Security team launched the security project during a district-wide network upgrade. New network cabinets, switches, firewalls, and other technologies were being installed across the district, according to Palmquist.

“We came in at the perfect time because you need a very hefty network to run this many cameras,” he says. “We worked closely with their IT team to ensure network upgrades could handle the security cameras, too.” 

The installation added 410 Verkada cameras with impressive analytic features. All Verkada cameras have a People Analytics feature for people detection. This system uses edge-based analytics to detect people, faces, and filter results based on clothing, color, apparent sex, and bags. 

“This allows the district to perform granular people detection,” Palmquist explains. “They might search for every person wearing a backpack or a person who appears to be male. They could even search for someone wearing a blue shirt and black pants, for example, and track them as they move throughout the building. They also could ask the system to search for someone’s face and show every time that the individual was on camera.”

Verkada cameras also allow security administrators to create People of Interest events. Here, admins upload specific faces of People of Interest, and the system will alert them when those individuals appear on camera. 

“Or maybe that person was already on site once and caused problems. In those cases, we can go through the footage and mark that person’s face as a Person of Interest,” he says. “If the cameras spot his face again, the system will alert staff immediately.” 

Securing the Parking Lot

Azusa school officials wanted multi-lens cameras installed in the district office parking lot, so staff would feel safe going to their cars at night. However, there were only two light poles in the parking lot, and both were powered by a photocell.

A photocell is a device that automatically turns parking lot LED lights on or off based on available ambient light. Palmquist says it’s a problem when there’s no continuous electricity at the light pole for installing security cameras.

“They do not have power at the pole until the photocell allows it and the photocell doesn’t allow power until ambient light starts to dim,” he says. 

The Safe and Sound Security team solved this problem by adding two solar panels and a junction box at the pole. When the sun hits the solar panels, it generates power in a backup battery system within a junction box hooked up to the quad-lens camera and wireless NanoBeam.

The setup turns sunlight into power for the cameras and sends the signal back to a receiver with a wireless NanoBeam. The receiver sends data to Verkada, where staff can see what’s happening on the camera. 

“They were anxious about this area because they get transients and homeless people sleeping back there, but with a quad lens camera, they have a full view of the parking lot,” he says. “This keeps staff safe as they go to their cars.” 

Getting a Handle on Smoking and Vaping

Vaping has become more common than cigarette smoking among today’s teens, according to a report from the University of Glasgow and the World Health Organization. The trend challenges most school districts, Azusa included. 

The district sought a way to address smoking and vaping in its 100 bathrooms. The team installed Verkada SV23 Air Quality Sensors in every school bathroom and placed a security camera outside each bathroom to resolve the issue.

The sensors monitor air quality, and the camera system logs students entering and leaving the bathroom when a high vape index event occurs. Employees are notified of a vape index alert and can check their phones to see the students involved. 

“The system has dramatically reduced vaping and smoking in the bathrooms,” Palmquist says. “The district had 250 alerts on the first day after installation. Now they are down to less than 10 alerts a week.” 

The sensors also can detect excessive noise in the bathroom, which can signal student fighting, and alert security personnel for quick intervention. 

The district also installed Verkada SV23 sensors in its server room to monitor humidity and temperature levels. 

Palmquist explains, “They have a lot of money invested in technology on these server racks. Temperature and humidity can do a lot of damage to it. Now their team gets alerted immediately if temperature and humidity levels exceed predefined thresholds.” 

Access Control and Guest Management

The Azusa School District also aimed to identify individuals entering the school and be able to lockdown all schools in case of an active shooter event.

Safe and Sound Security’s team installed Verkada Visitor Management to address the first part of this equation. With this system, guests access an iPad kiosk and scan their ID to check in, and a notification is sent to the office.

The system uses their IDs to screen visitors against various criminal databases, sex offender registries, and the district’s Persons of Interest list. If the visitor has a criminal record or is prohibited from entering the school, the system rejects their entry and alerts security. 

“If the person has come to visit a staff member, the system will send a push notification to that staff member with a link. When they click on that link, it will tell them who is there, show a picture of their ID, and camera footage, so they can verify their identity. 

The access control project’s next phase will manage access to 600 doors district wide. Access control is being installed on every classroom and common door in Azusa. This will enable a quick lockdown of all doors during an active shooter situation.

By integrating with Verkada access control, the video cameras can provide real-time views to police officers. Armed with precise knowledge of the shooter’s location, police can control access to different areas and deploy SWAT teams for student evacuation or threat elimination. 

“They know exactly what’s happening and where, so they can unlock doors to get students out safely,” he says. “This portion of the project will be completed over the summer.” 

Overcoming Installation Challenges

Most of the installations went off without a hitch, according to Palmquist.

The only challenge arose with older buildings, which posed difficulties for cable installation. Due to the absence of cable paths in the classrooms, technicians had to install conduit paths on the roof to connect the cameras. 

Right after doing this at one of the high schools, the team learned the roof on the high school was being replaced. “We had to ask the roofers to gently remove the conduit, then put it back in place,” he says. 

Because the district was upgrading its network, there were also a few times where they installed cameras but had to return later to complete the work. “We had to install a junction box that we could patch into and run cables to that, but by doing that we avoided ripping everything out and starting over again,” he says. 

Where They Go From Here

Staff training followed installation. Because installation happened over the summer, it was difficult to reach the building principals and key staff members for camera verification and footage. Similarly, organizing training sessions proved challenging.

Safe and Sound Security trained 40 staff members, then later returned to do district-wide training at each school. “It was a lot to do independent training at each site, and it took a while, but we eventually got everyone trained on the system,” he says.

Moving forward, Safe and Sound Security will monitor the operational system, promptly addressing any issues or alerts to maintain optimal performance. This is achieved through a comprehensive service level agreement (SLA) that covers maintenance, according to Palmquist.

The cloud-based system allows backend access to all devices for remote repairs, Palmquist adds

If there is no remote solution, the company dispatches technicians to fix the problem. “The technician will arrive with replacement parts,” Palmquist says. “If the device cannot be fixed, we will provide a replacement. We also dispatch technicians to clean and test systems annually.”  

Takeaways

The partnership between Safe and Sound Security and the Azusa School District stands as a testament to taking proactive measures that ensure the safety and security of students, staff, and visitors alike. 

By implementing a comprehensive surveillance and access control system across its 12 facilities, the district has fortified its defenses against potential threats. From state-of-the-art Verkada cameras with advanced analytic capabilities to innovative solutions for parking lot surveillance and vaping detection, every aspect of the security infrastructure has been meticulously designed to address the district’s unique challenges. 

The result? A palpable increase in feelings of safety and security among students and staff, coupled with a significant reduction in incidents such as fights and unauthorized access, Palmquist concludes.

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