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Digital video may improve school safety

By Lee Ann Garrett
Salisbury Post
New technology that would link school security systems and county law enforcement agencies could be the answer to keeping children safer at school.
Rowan-Salisbury School officials and local law enforcement are considering a plan from IBM that would allow officers to see exactly what was going on at a school site within seconds of getting an emergency call.
Rowan County Commissioner Jon Barber led a presentation on the system Thursday.
Barber read several letters to the editor published in the Post shortly after the Virginia Tech tragedy. In those letters residents expressed concerns over school and community safety.
“We want to let our citizens know we are listening to their concerns. … Now is a good time to get everyone together and see where we are and where we want to go with this,” Barber said.
IBM representative Jim Newman detailed a plan that would allow police officers to watch digital video captured at the scene of a school incident in their cars minutes before responding to the scene.
“Officers would know what to expect when they get there,” Newman said.
The system would also alert law enforcement directly.
“This would reduce response time in the event of an incident or threat,” he said.
The security system can be customized directly to the needs of a particular school system, county agency or community. Cameras could monitor areas that officials deem high crime areas or hot spots for gang activity.
Officials from the Kannapolis City School System, Rowan-Cabarrus Community College and Catawba College also attended Thursday’s presentation.
Newman said the system uses “smart surveillance” or intelligence layered on top of video. The video is stored in database format and encoded with searchable field like color and direction.
Program users can retrieve video based on specific requests like all red cars leaving a parking lot in a set period of time.
The basic security system can be upgraded with software such as license plate recognition, object detection, face cataloging and directional motion.
Bill Rousch, an IBM representative, told the group that the cameras can be set up to come on only when there’s movement in the area.
He also said a camera like the ones IBM have available could have captured the Virginia Tech gunman chaining the doors before he got to classrooms and started shooting.
Most of the county’s current surveillance and law enforcement equipment could be integrated with the new system, Rousch said.
Frank Thomason, Rowan County EMS Director, said two components of the system are already in place.
The county has a system that is used to alert residents of new situations by phone and email and the school system has the connect-ed system that can send out mass phone messages.
“We can leverage what we already have and keep these systems in place,” he said.
Joan Cooney, another IBM representative, discussed grants that the county could apply for through The Department of Homeland Security.
“This is the Neighborhood Watch of the 21st Century. We’re all at risk. I’d rather lean toward the risk than not address the problem,” said Bryce Beard, Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education Chair.
“I’m sold,” said Commissioner Arnold Chamberlain. “Bryce, come up with the money.”

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