Littleton Public Schools Evolve Security Roadmap with Collaborative Team

In late 2012, Guy Grace, LPS Director of Security and Emergency Planning, Littleton Public Schools, came to an important conclusion, “I was so frustrated with our DVRs that we’d been installing since the last bond issue approval. At first, they were meeting our needs, they could handle the PTZ cameras and motion detection, but over time the supplier started eliminating basic functions we needed. It was making our jobs harder than they needed to be.”

Littleton Public Schools (LPS), in Colorado, continue to roll out new cameras, hybrid NVRs, access control, intrusion, and a host of other systems, as they move toward their ambitious goal of creating a district-wide, comprehensive Physical Security Information Management (PSIM) system.

Upon completion, the new PSIM system will oversee and coordinate security for approximately 15,000 students and staff at LPS’ 27 school and administrative buildings, spread out over 29 miles. “A full-fledged PSIM system is our end goal. We can bring a variety of systems that are non-proprietary—access control, VMS, fire detection, perimeter, mass notification, barrier protection/detection, and diagnostic systems—all together into one unified system. Technology has my back,” said Grace.

In December 2013, LPS suffered a fatal shooting at their Arapahoe High School. “The shooting caused us to expedite everything, and our technology and integrator partners (Beacon Communications and Team Linx) responded well to our sped-up timeline.”

Grace added, “A PSIM allows us the flexibility to grow and expand, if needed we can have four operators at any one time in our control room. We have the flexibility to bring in people to deal with what is happening, what is needed. My staff needs to liaise with 145 users across our entire district. We have to manage this system as efficiently as possible, so we train our people to wear multiple hats. It seems to be working; we have not had any staff turnover since 2010.”

A total of 145 people have access to the video footage and eventually all data coming from the PSIM. At present, LPS is issuing various users with 145 tablets with Android software to enable mobility and faster, more accurate responses. LPS is providing designated security and police vehicles with video feeds as well.

“One of the greatest challenges related to K-12 security technology deployments is to have the ability to evolve with constantly changing demands on school safety. School Security must enhance the ability of the students to learn and for teachers to teach. In 2004, we put in a fantastic analog, black box cabling system. It was great then, but 10 years later, it’s completely obsolete because it so severely limits our options and ability to respond to a changing landscape,” recalled Grace.

Other major vendor partners in the LPS project included Open Options, Aiphone, and Altronix for access control, while Bosch, Inovonics, and Optex handled intrusion detection.

Staying Well Ahead of Obsolescence

In the past, there were significant challenges that arose when school districts deployed security technology. Often the older technology did not evolve with new threats and as a result became obsolete. A school district can overcome obsolescence by utilizing a PoE infrastructure for its security technology deployments. PoE allows a school district to adopt non-proprietary technologies for access control, IP cameras, Intercoms, duress, asset protection, mass notification, to name a few.  As a result, the school district is able to immediately adapt and mitigate new vulnerabilities.

“As we looked out over the technology supplier landscape, we were looking for companies that were consistently evolving their technologies. In doing so, we could evolve alongside our chosen technology providers. Now, we can implement in different schools and move equipment around. Without PoE, we simply could not evolve. We’re not stuck like 10 years ago, as long as the makers continue to innovate. We’re avoiding being stagnant, and using our capital reserve money to invest for the future. We can now afford to do things we could never do before,” said Grace.  “Our overall security goal is pretty simple:  we must have quality technology delivering quality results because we cannot have a successful educational experience without safety and security well taken care of.”

Technology Partners’ Contributions

Physical Security Information Management System

Physical Security Information Management (PSIM) is a category of software that provides a platform and applications created by middleware developers, designed to integrate multiple unconnected security applications and devices and control them through one comprehensive user interface. It collects and correlates events from existing disparate security devices and information systems (video, access control, sensors, analytics, networks, building systems, etc.) to empower personnel to identify and proactively resolve situations. PSIM integration enables numerous organizational benefits, including increased control, improved situation awareness and management reporting.

LPS is considered a pioneer in PSIM and an industry influencer for other school districts to adopt similar processes with life safety systems.  The LPS PSIM officially came online mid-summer 2016. The system being deployed is a first of its kind in K-12 due to its interactivity design for the operator. The system is customized for various users from the District Security office to the users at the school level. LPS looked at several vendors and Open Options was able to prove that they could meet our specifications and high-level needs.

PoE Cabling for the Future

Power over Ethernet allows a single cable to provide both data connection and electrical power to devices such as intercoms, door controllers, and security cameras. PoE-based devices are the new standard in security equipment such as surveillance and access control. The whole LPS Physical Security System is based on a POE data and power system.  The district used the 2012 bond issue to install PoE infrastructure to meet LPS security needs for many years to come. This infrastructure allows LPS to add and/or move needed security devices such as cameras, card readers, and other devices without tremendous upfront expenses. With the old way of adding security components to an access control system, the costliest component was often the installation of the device, not the device itself. The PoE infrastructure also improves response times in the upkeep of the systems. Each school has dedicated environmentally controlled Main Distribution Facility rooms dedicated to housing, organizing, and protecting the cabling and main hardware components. PoE cabling needs for the school district came through integrators Beacon Communications and Team Linx.

Updated Video Surveillance Systems

In the summer of 2015, LPS began migrating existing analog surveillance systems to 3xLOGIC NDVRs. The first schools went online in August 2015.  The LPS Security Department also improved the base systems at each school by adding additional HD cameras. It was determined that the new 3xLOGIC security cameras were more cost effective, of higher quality, easier to install, and had a longer lifespan than the older technology—this was unexpected, welcome news and a clear indication of LPS growing with evolving, improving technology.

As a result of lessons learned, the bond issues for 2016 and 2017 determined that it was more cost efficient for the long term for all existing analog cameras to be replaced with new IP cameras.  Now, the new video surveillance system fully integrates with the PISM system. Over time, LPS Security will also utilize many of the new features the updated Video Surveillance system offers such as analytics, tracking, motion sensors, and mobile applications.

“I really liked that the hybrid NVR allowed me to incorporate existing analog cameras and add new IP cameras whenever I wanted. This was a lifesaver because I can eliminate older tech and migrate to IP at my pace and budget. This also allows us to have compatibility across all our schools, and that’s crucial,” said Grace.

Once the project is completed, LPS will have a total 1400 cameras, of which about 800 cameras are installed as of August 2016. Grace expects full migration to HD IP cameras by 2017.

Access Control System

The most visible security equipment at the schools is the proximity card readers at designated entrances, followed by two-way video intercom stations and the security cameras on the exterior of the building.

To address the “all hazards” emergencies the school district may face, the security system must be integrated with technologies that meet district needs. School security in a basic sense starts with access control. As for the LPS, the district sought an access control partner able to provide a user-friendly monitoring interface while also providing the ability to interface with other technology providers now and in the future. The system had to be open source to suit the district’s needs for many years. After significant research and multiple demonstrations, Open Options was chosen. In 2012, before selecting Open Options, LPS had already selected 3xLogic for the VMS. Open Options and 3xLOGIC immediately worked together in 2013 to create the drivers and processes that would allow the two to build the backbone of the access control system.

Updated Loss Prevention Devices

In the 2012 bond issue, LPS chose to update existing loss prevention devices. Loss prevention devices are motion detectors, door contacts, and beam detectors that are deployed inside and outside LPS Schools. LPS had a strong partnership with Inovonics wireless since 2002 and chose them again to be the provider. Inovonics products allowed the district to avoid hard wiring the devices to a panel, which saves the district substantial money in avoiding installation costs for wiring and conduit.

Duress Systems

With regard to duress systems, by utilizing the Inovonics loss prevention system the district can add duress devices to infrastructure. The first deployment of the duress system is to utilize the devices as one way to quickly lock down the school and call for help. In the future, by adding more devices this establishes a safer environment by providing an easy method for teachers to signal for help with panic buttons. Inovonics mobile duress panic buttons are easily integrated into the existing security system panels to provide an effective increase in safety. By deploying this solution, the district is able to provide a cost efficient, easily maintained a system that can expand and evolve to meet changing needs.

Inovonics integrated into Bosch panels, which in turn are integrated into the VALCOM system for mass notification. If a wireless lockdown button is pushed the card readers are disabled and the door strikes lock and mass notification messages are broadcasted. This acts as an immediate barrier to an active shooter while enhancing the response of staff and students inside affected schools.

Updated Video Intercom Capabilities

LPS is installing two-way intercoms at all the schools. The chosen technology is the Aiphone IX Series Intercoms, featuring video entry security, internal communication, emergency stations, and paging. All system units and apps can unlock doors remotely, assist onsite visitors from an offsite location, broadcast emergency announcements, and communicate over the PoE network.

Among the standout features from the technology is the intercom’s ability to record audio and video of visitors on the network digital video recorders. Now, LPS has an extra camera, the ability to record all the transactions at the door in voice and video, the ability to talk to the door from the school and from the security office miles away. Also, these intercoms can now be used as call-for-help stations 24/7.

Integration of Mass Notification Systems

Through the VALCOM system and integration with the PSIM system, the district implemented safety alert protocols for the start of the 2016 school year. Currently, LPS has mass notification announcements including fire, lockdown, secured perimeter, directed response, lightning alert, tornado watch, and a tornado warning. Speakers are placed strategically inside and outside the schools for mass notification. They also work in conjunction with fire strobes. The district security office and each individual school can implement any of these alerts at any time.

PC, Android, and Mobile Applications

The new PSIM system is fully deployable for mobile applications, LPS is issuing 145 tablets with Android software to users for mobile responses. Security Officers and School Resource Officers can utilize video surveillance system data while on patrol from designated mobile devices. Intercoms and visitor management can also be done on District-provided android devices. Each school is also being provided a custom PSIM interface to be utilized by staff for security needs. Designated, authorized persons have access to cameras, building schedules, and the ability to know when a door is open. The district is providing designated security and police vehicles with video and data feeds as well.

Motivated Integrators

Grace is in near-daily contact with his integrators, Beacon Communications, and Team Linx. Both integrators installed the security infrastructure at the schools. Linx also won the contract to complete the LPS head end command center.

“Non-proprietary technologies allow the district to stay on the curve with addressing all hazards emergencies. This strategy also helps us bring the best technology into the district and it attracts the best integrators to help us with selecting products and developing processes and solutions.”  The integrators were early advocates of open systems, “Through our integrators, we also made sure that all of our stakeholders were reached in the design and build of the system.”

The System in Action

Grace described how the system works for him, “I have already taken out some installed 3xlogic cameras and put in newer cameras that have evolved with better features. I have moved the older cameras to a place those cameras work great and used the new tech to address higher-level needs. I suffer no loss of money, and the ease of installation allows us to do the work. So, let’s say we want to try intercoms down the road; we can do that by using the same cabling already installed in the schools.

Another emphasis is LPS’s ability to empower each of the 26 schools in their own security.  Grace pointed out that all the systems will be on 145-plus employees’ desktops so that these employees can facilitate access control and site security as well.

“Over the last number of years, more money has been provided to the Security Department because our work has a tremendous benefit to the school district in that it enhances the learning environment and makes us more attractive to parents who are shopping for the best school. The LPS Board has been very impressed, they see money well spent and that’s huge. We’re not a cost center; we’re an innovative department adding tangible value,” added Grace who also said the new system has reduced vandalism 75 percent.

“The ease of system use and the compliments we get have seen a big improvement. That’s huge. You want it to be a positive experience so that our people will use it. If we’re using the integrated PSIM system, then we’re successfully improving security on our campuses,” Grace concluded.

Submitted by:  Guy Grace, LPS and Bruce Doneff, 3xLOGIC