How has technology changed security in education?
Sponsored: "The capabilities of modern video surveillance technology are staggering," says Pete Gould, MD at Onwatch Multifire
Posted by Joe Lawson-West | May 31, 2018 | Security & safety
security, video-surveillance, cctv

In the absence of wizards, anti intruder jinxes and defensive magic, most schools have to deal with security concerns with less sophisticated means. That said, the capabilities of modern video surveillance technology are staggering. They would even give Voldermort a run for his money. Across the school and college estate, they are enabling authorities with unprecedented standards of surveillance that help to achieve the highest standards of governance and safety.

On a modern campus, fewer Heads depend on a Keeper of Keys in the shape of a security guard who does the rounds after hours. Instead, comprehensive monitoring makes the most of valuable human resources and mitigates the ever present risks presented by ill discipline, anti social behaviour, vandalism, bullying and staff abuse.  Huge advances in digital signalling, video analytics, cloud processing, AI and deep learning are combining to enable proper stewardship of far flung areas such as outbuildings and sports sites.

The pace of change has been dramatic.  Not that long ago, a CCTV system was no different to a broadcast television system. The circuit, ie the camera linked to the monitor, was a simple closed network, with a one way flow of information and zero feedback to the camera in terms of what information was required by the operator.

As CCTV systems changed from analogue devices to high speed IP (internet protocol) systems, the sheer amount of information they could convey rose exponentially. Where an old analog camera from only fifteen years ago, with a resolution of 320 x 240 (7680 Pixels, or dots), was the norm, today even the cheapest systems feature a megapixel camera with the power to process more than 700 times that amount of information. A commonplace 5MPXL model now boasts a resolution of 2540 x 2048, enough to give highly accurate facial recognition. The advent of such huge amounts of storage space, often held in the cloud, also allows greater retention times. From humble old VHS tapes, digital systems now enable almost limitless storage, with years of footage archived and stored and instant retrieval made possible. Perhaps the greatest development of late, however, comes in the use of intelligent video analytics, whereby sophisticated computer algorithms analyse footage automatically against predefined rules, alerting operators to unusual patterns of behaviour.

In an educational environment, such analytic strengths can be very advantageous. A camera can learn the pattern of movement in an area, for instance down a corridor, and after a period, can “understand” the normal scene behaviour. If a person in that scene moves unusually, for instance against the flow, or quicker than usual, or perhaps two or more people huddle together or even start acting aggressively, the camera can quickly recognise the changes in the scene and raise an alert, which is then networked over the internet in real time across operational stations.

Furthermore, other cutting edge technologies such as audio processing can now link to that video, and listen out for specified sounds, such as raised voices and shouting, or even recognizable patterns such as screams, abuse or worse. Modern facial recognition systems linked to intelligent access control systems are also increasingly apparent in many modern educational environments, for instance in spotting known criminals or known trouble-makers. The same technology that spots unwanted people on a campus defends tightly guarded, secure and highly controlled areas in military and other specialised sectors. Each entrant in to an area can now be scanned for facial recognition and imagery can be immediately compared to databases for alerts against certain specific criteria, for instance, whether a person should be in a certain spot at a certain time.

These algorithms are becoming ever more intelligent. They can now identify anomalies at great distances and in very crowded areas. The same technology that monitors a playground for children’s slips and falls, or a care home for a fall by a frail older person, is now in operation in open school environments, in catering halls, common or outdoor areas.

Even the highest levels of operational security intelligence can sometimes bite off more data than they can cope with, and the same challenges apply in all sectors that come to depend on it. False alerts are a commonplace bugbear so we have invested heavily to reduce such false alerts. Our monitoring hubs receive analysis patterns taken from more than 100,000 monitored cameras installed worldwide, using cloud based algorithms specifically to recognise certain alarms, and provide clarity by filtering out alerts caused by extraneous events, from wildlife to foliage and other natural phenomena that might resemble human activity.

As 5G and IOT continue to power security technology with new capabilities,  truly successful applications will always depend less on emerging technology applied for its own sake, and more on how it is applied to meet defined objectives. How that tech is configured is a question for human judgment, and every campus will have specific issues to address. One thing is constant however, security technology, intelligently applied, enables teachers to do what they do best, instead of being side tracked by the need to maintain discipline. Whether they teach astronomy, arithmancy or magic potions, never have they able to depend on such intelligent guardians to cope with the multiple pressures placed upon them.

For more information, visit Onwatch Multifire

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