Youth Center Surveillance, Access Control & Alarm System Case Study: First Exposures

Just The Facts 

Customer: First Exposures / Youth Speaks – shared non-profit Youth Center

Location: San Francisco, California

Challenge: Installing security cameras, access control and alarm system at nonprofit youth photography and arts center.

Solution: Valuable equipment is secured, and employees and students are kept safe, with a 24-hour access control, alarm, and surveillance system.

Results:  A modern access control and surveillance camera system manages entry to the building, while an alarm system provides protection during non-business hours. 

Customer Challenge

Life in the inner-city can be tough, where the existence of crime, family troubles, and gang activity can cloud young people’s judgment and safety. First Exposures exists to provide connection and clarity to help youth see things more clearly.

The pioneering San Francisco nonprofit transforms the lives of teens through photography. The one-to-one mentorship program founded in 1993 pairs under-resourced youth with professional photographers to help under-served youth focus on their potential and capture their dreams. 

The program’s innovative approach combines technical instruction with personal mentorship to help students see life from a new perspective. Whether working with digital cameras or developing photos in the darkroom, the program teaches kids to frame their futures with hope and confidence. 

“We match young people in the Bay Area with adult photographer mentors,” says Eric Auerbach, executive director of First Exposures. “But our mentors do a lot more than just photography,” he says, noting they might help students with college readiness, as well as guide them through personal and family difficulties.

The crucial factor in achieving success was having a safe space away from the negative aspects of inner-city life. “This space needs to feel secure when we hold our programs,” Auerbach says.

He points out the building’s proximity to a public park, where students might encounter homelessness, drugs, and crime, highlighted the need for a security system. Safeguarding the nonprofit’s investments in various equipment and technology, such as cameras, computers, audio equipment, darkroom supplies, and more, was also crucial, he adds.

First Exposures began searching for a security system integrator and installer, prioritizing a local company with extensive expertise and exceptional customer service. Safe and Sound Security checked all the boxes, he says.

Zachary Palmquist, project manager for Safe and Sound Security, says the company jumped on the project because of the good the organization was doing for the community. 

“We believed so much in what they do that this became a heartfelt installation that everyone on the team became very attached to,” he says. “San Francisco has become a very crazy place. We wanted to keep those kids safe.”

First Exposures is in a mixed-use building, where there are businesses on the bottom floor and residential spaces on the top floor. Their location was a two-story suite directly across from the park. 

The organization originally asked Safe and Sound Security to install an alarm system to protect equipment after hours. But the project quickly expanded from there. “They wanted to keep the kids and the staff safe too,” he says. 

The resulting security system, from Alarm.com, included:

  • Access control
  • Alarm system
  • Surveillance cameras
  • Video intercom system

With limited financial resources as a nonprofit, First Exposures fundraised for the system. Safe and Sound Security then chose Alarm.com systems for two reasons: Ease of use and affordability.

Palmquist explains, “It’s very user friendly with everything in one interface. It also has a very consumer-friendly price. It is very baseline, but that’s what makes it really easy to use and that’s what does the trick for a lot of our customers.”

Getting Access to the Front Door

Before implementing its new system, First Exposures depended on a rudimentary access control approach.

Palmquist stated the organization kept the main entrance locked, and whenever someone knocked, they would unlock the door to let them inside. Unfortunately, this setup was ineffective in the two-story building where the main floor housed the lobby, and the two classrooms and a darkroom were upstairs

“Sometimes the only staff there was on the second floor teaching a class,” he says. “If a student was late getting to class, and no one heard them knocking, they couldn’t get in.”

“We added an access control system that lets them in one of two ways,” Palmquist says. “If they have a valid credential, they can let themselves in or they can ring the video intercom and an authorized individual can let them in.”

However, the building’s cement-block construction complicated installation.

“We could not get any cables to the front door because the entire building was made of cement,” he explains. “With a project that has more funding, we can run conduit. But the labor associated with that increases the price significantly and this project simply didn’t have the budget to do this.” 

Safe and Sound Security circumvented the need for cables by installing an Alarm.com wireless access control system. This system includes a battery-operated lock with a built-in card reader on the door, as well as a battery-operated video intercom system and doorbell with Wi-Fi capabilities. 

Now staff is notified by the video doorbell if someone rings it while they are teaching. All staff have the Alarm.com app on their phones, but Palmquist says it was impractical to answer their phones during class. The solution was to install low-volume wireless doorbell chimes in each classroom.

“When someone rings the doorbell, the instructor can tell the class there is someone at the front door and answer the call without looking at their phones, which seems rude,” he says. “We put a tablet on the wall of each classroom. The teacher can use the tablet to see who’s at the door, chat with them, and unlock the door.” 

“The system works really well for access control and limits classroom interruptions,” says Karina Patel, facilities manager at First Exposures. 

“There are a lot of different kinds of people coming into our area with the public park by our building,” she says. “We can see on our phones who is at the front door and let people in from upstairs if we’re busy teaching classes or helping students.”

Cameras & Alarms

The entire installation has four Alarm.com security cameras—one outdoor camera, two in the first-floor lobby, and one on the second floor, according to Palmquist. 

The staff can access footage from these cameras using a mobile app.  

Safe and Sound Security also installed glass break detectors and motion sensors. But due to the cement construction of the building, Palmquist notes these systems had to operate wirelessly. 

“Typically, the wireless signal on these products is pretty strong and works really well in a sheet rock building,” he says. “But in this building, the floors, walls, and ceilings are all cement. The signal was having a tough time getting from the panel on the first floor to the second floor.”

Safe and Sound Security installed two repeaters, one on the first floor and another on the second, to boost the signal for wireless operation. Now if anyone tries to break in through a window or a door, Safe and Sound Security’s monitoring center receives an alert and dispatches police or notifies staff depending on the alert they receive. 

Training & Maintenance

First Exposures entered into a comprehensive service level agreement (SLA) with Safe and Sound Security to cover training and maintenance. Under this agreement, Safe and Sound Security provides training, and its technicians monitor system operation and promptly address any issues or alerts to ensure optimal performance.

Palmquist stated that the training requirements for First Exposures staff varied due to differences in individual access levels.

He clarifies Alarm.com offers an advanced level of control in managing access permissions. To manage this capability effectively, Palmquist created a comprehensive spreadsheet containing the names of all staff members, along with their respective access levels. He then conducted separate training sessions based on access levels.

“I took this approach because it was unnecessary for everyone to be aware of all the features available within the system,” he says. “I returned for five independent trainings with staff members to show them the things they needed to know to access the functions they could access.”

According to Patel, the training sessions provided staff members with the necessary skills to operate the system. “Knowledge is power,” she says. “Making sure everybody knows what’s going on is super important. It gives everyone the autonomy and responsibility to protect the space.”

Should staff be terminated, leave voluntarily or take a leave of absence, Alarm.com allows admins to delete or pause their access. “First Exposures has two super admins,” Palmquist says. “They can see all the users and what they have access to, and they can delete or pause their access as needed from their phone or web browser.” 

The system provides remote access for repairs, but if that’s not possible, technicians are dispatched to resolve issues and install replacement parts. Additionally, technicians perform annual cleaning and testing of the systems. 

The end product is a security system that works as intended to keep First Exposures staff and students safe.

“Our students are our top priority, and their safety is incredibly important to us,” Auerbach says. “[With our new security system,] the space is very secure.”

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