Threat resolved: No Weapon for Loaded Magazine
After its upgrade from analog to IP network video surveillance, a Florida high school resolved a potential threat involving ammunition in just minutes. The protagonists: a high-definition panoramic camera and VMS intelligent search.
Hernando County School District on the west-central coast of Florida expected great results when it deployed a new IP network video surveillance system across all 23 of its schools. What it didn’t expect was that, early on, the system would demonstrably prove its value during an alarming security incident at the district’s largest high school of nearly 1,900 students.
The episode involved a potential firearm, and administrators were able to quickly resolve it using their new network-based surveillance system. By contrast, if they had had to use their former analog video system, it would have taken the staff days or even weeks to determine the facts of the issue, if they could have resolved it at all.
Seeing the advanced capabilities of the new system in action — especially the high image quality and the extremely fast video search feature — has instilled confidence among the district’s administrators. Since they witnessed firsthand how quickly and accurately, they could address security concerns, they now view the system as a tool to help prevent a crisis before it happens.
Smart Search 2 allows us to very instantly go back in time to when nothing was there. Searching video for the absence of a thing is kind of crazy, but within a matter of minutes, the school staff was able to identify exactly when that backpack was left, and then identify the student who did that.
Analog System Severely Limited the Security Task
Until shortly before the incident, the schools had had to rely on an outdated analog video surveillance system. It operated on a coaxial cable infrastructure, with decentralized video feeds and no viable way to search recorded video. Although the system had an immense number of cameras, because there was no camera health monitoring, the staff was unaware which cameras were functional and which weren’t at any given time. Nor could the system be relied upon to identify individuals in the footage due to its poor video quality, describes Jill Renihan, director of safe schools for the Hernando County School District.
“I was a school administrator handicapped by the lack of cameras, or cameras that weren’t working, or inadequate coverage, or being unable to really gather information and make identification of people. And certainly, anytime you zoom in on an analog camera, you end up just with pixels and not any way to really make that any better,” Renihan says.
She describes a situation in which an administrator was accused of physically putting his hands on a student. While a camera was in position at the site of the incident, it was not working. Even if it had been functioning without the ability to intelligently search the video the result would have been the same: the administrator in question was placed out of contact with students and not able to do his job for five days while an investigation was conducted.
“Accurately identifying who did what to whom is huge in terms of giving administrators time back so that they can be doing things that are preventive, like being visible, walking in and out of classrooms, and knowing what’s happening in their hallways. When they’re stuck trying to investigate situation after situation, they can’t do that,” she says.
“What I have believed from the beginning was that we needed a more responsive system. What we’ve now built is that very thing,” Renihan says.
The New Solution Is Open, Intelligent, Responsive
Shortly into her new role as school safety specialist for the Hernando County School District — a role that was legislated by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act — Renihan spent time learning about possible solutions that would help the schools not only be more preventive about security, but allow them to resolve issues much more quickly. As part of this process, she was introduced to Axis Communications.
“One of the things that jumped out at me right away was Axis’ open platform and their ability and willingness to integrate with many other solutions. The health monitoring of the cameras was another impressive piece for me. The fact that in critical incidents that I responded to as an administrator, only to find out I didn’t have a working camera — it’s so deflating, and it just lengthens the investigatory process to a large degree,” she explains.
The school district worked with GC&E Systems Group LLC, a systems integrator of communications and electronic security solutions, which recommended building a new network that would provide better digital quality to support the advanced features of the surveillance system. District-wide the system is comprised of approximately 2,000 cameras, including innovative dual-sensor and multi-directional models, and featuring health monitoring of their operational status.
The surveillance system is managed through AXIS Camera Station video management software, which allows school administrators to intuitively manage cameras, handle incidents, and quickly export high-definition video evidence. A powerful function within AXIS Camera Station is Smart Search 2. It allows users to quickly search through video feeds by leveraging deep-learning from Axis Cameras to find persons and vehicles of interest.
How the Backpack Threat Was Resolved
Smart Search 2 played a key role in solving a serious security threat at one of the high schools. A student had picked up a discarded backpack from a trash can in one of the main hallways and immediately brought it to administration. Upon looking inside, they found a magazine with several hollow-point rounds of ammunition, but no weapon.
“Of course, we have to think there’s a firearm to go along with it. So that’s a terrifying moment in everybody’s day, especially on a campus of almost 1,900 students. Given that we now know that the backpack had been left there two days prior to us becoming aware of it, we realize that the search of video would have taken a very long time with the old system if at all. So, we’re very thankful to have had our new system in place to resolve it so quickly,” Renihan says.
As there was no identifying information in the backpack, administrators got to work quickly to determine who had dropped it and who it ultimately belonged to. From the same location, they initiated a video search using Smart Search 2. It can quickly classify objects such as people, cars, trucks and bicycles, and offers search filters such as colors and the presence/absence of an item, which is what the school staff used to get answers about the abandoned backpack.
“On our old system, one, we’d have had a hard time even spotting the backpack. But two, being able to use Smart Search 2 to say, ‘Here’s the backpack, we see it at this point in time. When was it not there?’ Smart Search 2 allows us to very instantly go back in time to when nothing was there — the absence of a thing. Searching video for the absence of a thing is kind of crazy, but within a matter of minutes, the school staff was able to identify exactly when that backpack was left, and then identify the student who did that,” Renihan says.
She adds that setting the time pattern for searches is easy because whether the search involves days or weeks, the results will appear just as quickly. “When you’re talking about a really small parameter of the space in which you’re searching, it allows you to do that in a very, very efficient way,” she says, adding that a search of this caliber and speed simply could never be conducted on their old analog system.
The camera in this incident was an AXIS P38 Series panoramic model with a field-of-view of 180 degrees horizontal and 90 degrees vertical — ideal for busy corridors. The quality of the video played a role that was equally as important as the search function in this incident. Due to the clarity of the image, Renihan says the staff was able to positively identify the student who dropped the backpack in the trash can. Within minutes they brought that student into the office. The story he told of how the ammunition ended up in the backpack — and his panicked response of tossing it out — matched the evidence they viewed on the recorded video and gave administrators assurance that there wasn’t a weapon on campus.
“Because we’d done a comprehensive job of covering our campuses, they were able to use the video to verify his story, and it 100-percent matched what he told them. At that moment, once they realized that he was telling them the truth, they then were able to relax a good bit in comparison to where they had been minutes before — thinking there’s a firearm with other ammunition on their campus at that moment in time,” Renihan says.
“Smart Search 2 is really about time and none of us has enough of it. So, when we’ve got incidents that we’ve got to try to resolve by use of the camera, Smart Search 2 cuts the almost real-time, one-for-one search that we used to have to do down to a matter of seconds or minutes. Situations can be resolved, we can get information or evidence very, very quickly,” Renihan says.
Security surveillance that is fast, well-defined, dependable and easy to use furthers Hernando County School District’s objective of preventing incidents before they turn into security threats. Axis Communications’ technology and GC&E’s well-planned installation helped make it possible.