Georgia School Design Includes 72 Surveillance Cameras

THOMSON, Ga. — Security surveillance cameras could become requisite features in junior high school design to prevent gang activity, vandalism, bullying and guns on campus if more school administrators follow the example of Thomson-McDuffie Middle School.

The $17.5 million, 140,000-square-foot facility opened in August 2008 with 72 video surveillance cameras to monitor the more than 600 enrolled students.

“We think it’s going to be a model school in Georgia,” says Mark Peterson, McDuffie County School superintendent. “We think that we’re going to have a lot of visitors to come to our school and see what it is that we’re doing differently.”

Students ages 12 through 14 are more likely than older students to be victims of crime at school, according to the U.S. Department of Education. An attack or robbery victim at school is usually a boy in the seventh grade assaulted by another boy his own age.

Cameras were placed in the school’s hallways, at entry and exit points and in the gymnasium. Day-night dome cameras are installed inside the bus stop in front of the school to monitor the grounds and parking lot.

“Students know the cameras are watching them as they move through the school,” says Sergio Collazo, national sales and marketing manager for Toshiba, which manufactured all of the cameras at the school. “But the unobtrusive appearance keeps it from being intimidating.”

Some areas will remain out of view from the cameras. They were not installed in bathrooms, locker rooms or inside classrooms.

School officials met with security representatives in early 2007 and decided on a hybrid analog/digital solution because a full IP system was cost-prohibitive. The system utilizes CAT5e cabling that is also used for the campus’ computer network.

“Besides saving money, it essentially future-proofed the building if the administration chose to add IP cameras later down the line,” says Chad Umbarger, vice president of sales for HeitneREPS Inc, a security systems company that worked on the project.

The system allows authorized staff to log on to their computers to view real-time images transmitted from around the school. The Thomson Police Department was given network IP addresses. In case of an emergency, live images can be accessed through the school’s wireless infrastructure by officers within 150 feet.

The school also features a central visual checkpoint at the intersection where the school’s six hallways meet, where a large color monitor lets staff watch all hallways from one location.

However, the technology also extends to classrooms.

“The technological aspects of the school are beyond what we’ve seen in the state of Georgia,” says Steve Rhodes, principal of Thomson-McDuffie. “Eachof our classrooms will have a DVD projector in the ceiling. All will have slate writers.”

After the school opened, police officers and representatives from other schools toured Thomson-McDuffie Middle to explore how to deploy similar approaches to combat crime and vandalism.