Ahead of the curve: Small New York school district uses cutting edge technology

Apr 1, 2000 12:00 PM, Carey Adams


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Tables may be turning for students skipping class. The Hauppauge School District in Hauppauge, N.Y., is using Palm Pilot handheld computers and data retrieval software to check class attendance.

Eight Palm Pilot Vx units are currently in use in the Hauppauge School District on Long Island. The devices are used by school administrators and security personnel to access student class schedules if a student is caught walking the halls without a pass.

"We can look up a schedule in a matter of seconds to find out where a student should be," says school security supervisor Ed Spear. "In the past, we had to radio the office and ask someone to pull a schedule card, or we went to the office ourselves to look up the information. It took too much time."

Student information is downloaded from a student administration directory to a Microsoft Access database. The information is then transferred to the Palm Pilot via software by Pendragon Software Corp., Libertyville, Ill. The SPT 1500 Palm Pilots, supplied by Symbol Technologies, Holtsville, N.Y., can access student schedules for the nine-period school day. The handheld computers allow the student ID number to be scanned from a bar code on the student's ID card to retrieve information such as class schedule, emergency contacts, medical information and parking permits.

The 3,500-student school system might be small compared to other New York State systems, but school security supervisor Ed Spear says lack of size is no excuse to install minimum security measures.

"I think there is always room for improvement no matter what size the school. Parents expect schools to be safe, and we intend to make our schools as safe as possible," says Spear.

Hauppauge school administrators have been dedicated to upgrading their facilities since an overhaul of the burglar and fire alarm security system in 1988. The school system upgraded its security measures gradually during the next few years, adding alarm monitoring and alarm paging.

Since 1996, the district has increased its use of security with the purchase of an extensive access control and CCTV system that includes 75 interior cameras in the high school, 32 interior cameras in the middle school and 16 cameras patrolling spaces in each of the three elementary schools.

Spear says the school district is testing the Palm Pilots as a demonstration project undertaken by Symbol Technologies and its business partner, School Palm, Los Angeles.

"Symbol is conducting a similar, larger project in an adjoining school system using a wireless ethernet. Symbol, which is in our neighborhood, has been very supportive of our schools, and we wanted to be a part of their project," says Spear.

The security applications surrounding the Palm Pilots have been developed in-house with the software package provided by Pendragon.

"It is a non-evasive way of tracking kids in the building," says Andrew Schenker, an education marketing representative with Symbol.

Schenker says Hauppauge is one of more than a dozen schools across the country using the Palm Pilots to track student attendance.

GPS tracks administrators in the field The school district is also using computer technology to track the whereabouts of its security staff. According to Spear, a security officer working alone - unsupervised - raises questions of accountability. The Hauppauge School District is testing a Pagetrack 2000 GPS (global positioning system) receiver, manufactured by Motorola, in one of the school system's vehicles.

Every time the driver's door opens, a GPS update is made within the system. Security personnel can also update the system with two manual triggers or response buttons. GPS updates can be accessed via the Internet or through a simple command from a Skytel pager.

Spear says UR Busted, a security vendor in the Hauppauge area, is providing the Pagetrack 2000 unit as a demonstration. Elite Logistics, Freeport, Texas, provides the Web support to access the GPS information, and Motorola is supplying the GPS units. Data-Trac of Long Island is providing data services via Skytel's nationwide pager network.

Spear says the school district has benefited from new security technology provided through a strong alliance with manufacturers and vendors in the Hauppauge area.

The demonstration and testing of the GPS system and the Palm Pilots add to an elaborate security system in place throughout the Hauppauge School District.

Extensive CCTV surveillance All schools in the Hauppauge School District have remote video surveillance. Seventy-five cameras are located within the 1,200-student high school serving the district.

The video cameras in the high school are linked through fiber-optics to the middle school. The linkage allows security personnel to track surveillance at both schools. Video is recorded 24 hours, seven days a week. The tapes are on a 30-day rotation at each school building.

During school days, the video room in the high school is staffed with a security officer. The officer acts as a dispatcher, reporting problems to the security staff and school administration. At the high school and middle school, principals and assistant principals can view video at their desks via a video distribution system with modules. School system administrators have 13-inch televisions on their desks for camera viewing.

The two-year-old video security system was installed as part of a comprehensive technology bond issue passed by the residents of Hauppauge. Six exterior cameras will be installed in the spring.

The security staff also carry security radios that have AWI boards installed that allow tracking of radio use and provide a divided log of radio activity. Security officers carry FCC licensed five-watt hand-held radios.

The school district has also made use of access control. Thirteen doors in the district use Corby 1 Access Control. The doors are primary entrance doors for authorized staff members. The doors can only be opened by Corby keys, distributed to the staff.

"If you can eliminate a means of entrance for intruders, you have taken care of a security concern," says Spear.

Spear says 10 of the 13 doors have two-ways voice communication at the entrances that allow "secure" communication with visitors - from a front desk. The 10 doors contain wireless door strikes to admit authorized visitors. Front door monitors at each of the elementary and middle schools have a video monitor at each of the front desk locations.

In the event of a break-in, an attempt by a burglar to steal a computer would be a difficult task. Hauppauge School District administrators have placed tight security on 300 of the newest computers. The computers have custom application cables, fasteners, locks, and cable traps from Datamation to keep the computers from being stolen.

Spear, who has served in the Hauppauge School District for 20 years and is currently the president of the Suffolk School Security Alliance, says many changes have occurred in school security and he expects there will be many more.

"We want to stay ahead of the curve. Technology has increased and we want to use that technology to help secure our schools," Spear says.

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