Monday, April 15, 2024

Brunswick County schools district plans for over $1M in security improvements

The COAST, Brunswick County's recently rebranded technical school, received grant funding to install a solar array on campus. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Brunswick County Schools)
COAST was the location of an upgraded security system. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Brunswick County Schools)

BRUNSWICK COUNTY — Brunswick County Schools is in the initial stage of implementing up to a million dollars in upgrades to enhance security and surveillance systems across all 20 schools within its district, with more to come.

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This project involves advancing from a basic CCTV surveillance setup — the first commercially available security monitoring system that was installed in the schools more than 15 years ago — to a sophisticated system using analytics and detection software. 

During the district’s operations committee meeting on Feb. 20, Debra Bair, the director of technology for the district, presented a proposal to the board outlining significant improvements compared to the school’s existing software from Video Insights. 

This method of security is becoming increasingly outdated as monitoring techniques utilizing learning algorithms and analytics gain popularity. Unlike newer systems, CCTV systems are constrained by fixed focus lenses, limiting image quality.

Bair told committee members in the meeting the new system’s capabilities encompass facial, vehicle and license-plate recognition, as well as weapon detection. Additionally, it can identify large groups of people or track movements of individuals. She also detailed the system’s capacity to notify relevant parties in the event of a security breach.

“If someone comes across that boundary,” Bair explained to Port City Daily, “it alerts an alarm to go off and the appropriate people would be contacted. It could go all the way to 911, it’s up to our choice.”

Bair chose not to disclose specific features BCS will be using in their systems, citing concerns about potential safety risk. 

The software has already been tested in one Brunswick County school — Center of Applied Sciences and Technology, an early college high school —  since November. A demo version with an upgraded server and four new cameras were installed.

During the committee meeting, board member and chairman Steven Barger, who visited the school, said he was impressed.

“I just want to make sure what I saw at the COAST was the whole package or a part of the package,” Barger said. “You should go visit it. It’s amazing stuff.”

Bair stated COAST was selected for the pilot because it is a small school, with 718 students, and the pilot would minimally disrupt administration and day-to-day operations. The fact that the school district’s technology department is housed within COAST, as Bair explained, facilitated close oversight of the pilot.

The administration appreciated the new system’s ability to decrease video scrubbing time and noted how it integrated with existing safety functions. For example, wireless locks sync with the new server. The demonstration showed the system’s ability to notify the appropriate party when the wireless lock door was left propped open or unlocked. 

“Technology obviously has gone forward leaps and bounds and left us in the lurch, in terms of the level of safety that we have the access to provide,” committee member Steve Gainey said during the meeting.

The committee, comprising the entire school board, voted unanimously — sans Robin Moffitt, who was absent — to send the proposal to the Brunswick County commissioners for further approval. This meeting will take place on Monday, March 18, and will approve the installation of the new software at every school, including an updated server and new cameras. How many are needed is dependent on the individual school needs. Costs could inch up to more than $1 million for surveying the schools, purchasing new equipment, and installation. 

Bair contracted Cambridge Computer Services, an IT servicing and consulting firm, to begin installing the servers and obtaining software licensing for all schools. It will cost $313,000. 

Also contracted is A3 Communication, a company specializing in physical security solutions, for $440,000. They will survey to figure out where cameras should go and how many are placed — for instance, whether in short distances to playgrounds or specific perimeters of exits and entrances. 

“Just imagine that on our campuses there are a few differences between distances to a fence, across a playground in the back of an elementary school, versus on a middle school. There are different distances to reach those perimeters,”  Bair detailed of the surveying process. 

Cameras are estimated to be in the $500,000 range; the funds are sourced from the district’s 2016 Bond Plan. To date, the $152-million bond has been used to build Town Creek Middle School, additional classrooms at Lincoln and Town Creek elementary schools, and a K-2 building at Waccamaw School.  

Being that the project uses bond funds, the county must sign off on its contracts. 

Bair emphasized the time sensitive nature of the security project, aiming to have it fully completed by the 2024-2025 school year. 

“As soon as the county approves it, we will place the order,” she said. “We will not change anything until the end of this particular school year, but in the interim we will have the cameras and everything ready to go. The goal is to have it ready in August when students and administration come back.”

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