Regardless of what their students might claim, educators don’t have eyes in the backs of their heads. But eyes in the palms of their hands? Well, maybe so—thanks to the latest innovation in security software, which gives school administrators and security personnel live access to images captured from any security camera installed at the school either from a personal digital assistant (PDA) or remote computer terminal.

AXIS Camera Explorer (ACE), from Axis Communications Inc., is one of the first technologies of its kind to stream live security video images wirelessly to a handheld device for display. Now, administrators can make lunchtime rounds in the cafeteria while keeping a watchful eye on the school parking lot and other trouble spots where security violations are likely to occur.

Schools can purchase the software for $99. The program, which makes it possible to access any given camera at any time and store the images for safe keeping, can be downloaded onto a Pocket PC device or any standard desktop machine, according to Michael Engstrom, general manager for Axis Communications.

Axis isn’t the only company that has developed this new breed of roving-eye technology. The Brazil-based company I-House, for example, manufactures a similar solution—called SmartEye—that sells for $150.

Engstrom said Axis, which has been toying with the concept of networked cameras and video servers since 1996, developed ACE to satisfy a demand for basic software applications that could store, stream, and customize images from a number of cameras running off of the same network.

The need for better surveillance techniques in schools has increased tenfold since the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado, Engstrom said. That tragedy, which left 12 students and a teacher dead, provided a sobering reality check for educators nationwide and prompted many to consider how schools could better prepare for emergencies.

One way, Engstrom said, is to make images captured by surveillance cameras accessible over a school’s local area network. Then, instead of digging through crowded video rooms and piles of prerecorded VHS tapes, school administrators and security personnel can access video logs from any computer or Pocket PC handheld device already connected to the network.

Storage capabilities also are improved by using a computer-based network to run surveillance. According to Engstrom, the quality and accessibility of computer images are far superior to those stored on old-fashioned, analog videotapes because they do not degrade over time and generally are easier to file and update.

Several schools already have made the leap to internet protocol (IP)-based video surveillance. Now, this latest development gives administrators access to surveillance images in the palms of their hands, allowing them to see several places at once without tying them to a desktop PC.

Marc Liebman, superintendent of the Marysville Joint Unified School District in California, said administrators likely will find great benefit in the system’s mobility. “The ability to take that information to supervisors and administrators on campus regardless of where they are is a great idea, as it will assist our response time and in many cases could get them there in time to prevent problems rather than just reacting to those problems,” he said.

While Engstrom touted the new wireless application as a breakthrough in security technology, he also admitted that the system has its limitations.

The Pocket PCs can only receive video images if the devices are used within range of one of the school’s wireless access points. If security personnel or administrators move outside of that range—typically, about 300 feet—they will be unable to view the images from their PDA. For instance, police personnel accessing a school’s surveillance logs from outside the school building would have to do so using a hard-wired machine.

Cost is another issue. Though the software is generally inexpensive, the cost of the cameras used to record these images can run high. Engstrom said Axis sells an entry-level camera for $299—but higher-end machines, which work off of motion detectors and record at 15 to 30 frames per second, can cost between $700 and $1,200.

Also, some educators question how much security is too much where video surveillance is concerned.

“This may be a good idea for a high-security facility, but it crosses the line [for] schools,” said Ken Eastwood, assistant superintendent for instruction and technology at the Oswego (N.Y.) City School District. Eastwood called the system “a ridiculous attribute for a school” and said it ratchets up security “to the point that no one can be trusted and everyone is peeking.”


Axis Communications Inc.