“After using Verkada for thirty minutes, you feel like you’ve been using it for years. There isn’t much of a learning curve.”
— Dan Layton, Chief Technology Officer, Zionsville Community Schools
Located in the northwestern corner of Indianapolis, the Zionsville Community Schools (ZCS) are committed to nurturing tomorrow’s productive citizens by providing students with customized 21st century experiences that help them grow.
To make sure the students are safe and faculty can focus on teaching, Dan Layton, Zionsville’s CTO, collaborates with the COO and school safety specialists on a regular basis. He specifically wanted to ensure the district was equipped with a reliable camera and video surveillance system that would help him protect the schools’ 7,500 students, across eight campuses and one bus station.
“With our old system, there were lots of extra steps to view the camera feed and it took a lot of time to load. Some administrators that live nearby would just drive into school to see it because it was just easier (and faster) that way.”
With 20-30 new students enrolling on a weekly basis—and new facilities being built to support this growth—Dan recognized that the legacy system wouldn’t be able to keep up. He knew something had to change.
Accessing Footage Remotely and Quickly
Dan had a lot of work ahead of him. The CCTV system the district was using was antiquated and required many manual repairs and upgrades. It wasn’t a scalable solution, which became a growing problem with how quickly the district is expanding.
District personnel at ZCS often tried to access footage remotely through its virtual environment after school hours, but the process was time-consuming and cumbersome.
Storage and Bandwidth Limitations
When they did manage to access the footage, the team often discovered that the videos were blurry, and focused on insignificant or irrelevant triggers.
The system ZCS used was activated by motion. “Anything as small as a moth, or movements triggered by the air conditioning system (if a camera happened to be hanging by the vents) would activate recording,” Dan explains. This caused serious problems and wasted his team’s time.
Additionally, “A new law passed by the state of Indiana requires at least 30 days of video surveillance storage—but we were filling up our bandwidth within a few weeks. To be compliant, we would have needed to upgrade our systems for server space, and the server costs alone would be monumental,” acknowledges Dan.
Inability to Scale Effectively
ZCS is growing so quickly that new schools will be needed in the future. That means even higher storage requirements, not to mention the need to consistently train personnel on new safety protocols.
To serve his colleagues and students, Dan needed a scalable system that could easily grow with the district.
“We wanted a system that’s easy to use and install, and requires no training.”
The need to find a better solution heightened when another school district made it to the news. Dan recalls, “There was an incident in Florida with school shootings that made my team come together to reevaluate our camera systems.”
A Reliable Camera System that Proved Itself Within 45 Minutes
With the responsibility of keeping 7,500 children and the staff that serves them across eight campuses (and counting) safe, David reports, “we wanted to upgrade our existing solutions to be more proactive in ensuring campus security.”
Fortunately, Verkada’s Director of Sales, happened to have excellent timing. “He introduced Verkada as a new company with an innovative idea to solve a lot of the pain points people in IT face with video security. We wanted to test it out,” Dan remembers.
Dan and his team at ZCS were able to quickly install their first camera. Within 45 minutes of receiving it, they were monitoring the cafeteria. Dan admits they initially thought of it as a fun summer project, but then quickly became confident in the system’s capabilities.
“It was so easy to install and administer from a configuration side,” Dan explains. The system was up and running in no time, it worked well and a quick run through the numbers convinced him that it was a cost-effective solution.
Coverage for the Entire District (Plus: Free Maintenance)
Dan and his team also thought beyond the initial installation. “We took the cost and ran it over ten years, and what we saw in the last four years for installation with our older system—equipment and the help we’d need to get it set up—made Verkada a no-brainer in terms of which made more sense from an economical standpoint.”
ZCS did have concerns about owning the camera installations themselves, instead of having a vendor deploy them. But even before he realized how easy Verkada’s system was to install, Dan understood what he was getting. “I like the upfront and transparent pricing model,” he says.
He also appreciated Verkada having his back for a full decade. “Verkada has a 10-year warranty on their products. Maintenance would be basically free, other than the time it would take to install.”
“Change is hard. We had a system that worked as well as it could. People knew it, and some of the people that worked with that system wanted to stay with it. But it’s been interesting to see how much more they like the new system once they start using it.”
An Intuitive, User-Friendly Camera System
“After using Verkada for thirty minutes, you feel like you’ve been using it for years. There isn’t much of a learning curve,” Dan attests.
With Command, Verkada’s web-based software, administrators can easily get onto the system, search for a camera and quickly view footage. No more driving back to school to see what’s going on.
Smart Notifications Help Prevent In-School Violence
Some of ZCS’ outdoor cameras have captured footage of students engaging in inappropriate behaviors, and (if suspicious or dangerous) the school safety team can intervene. For example, Dan recalls, “one student was taking off his shoe to throw it at the cameras, and we were getting notifications that the cameras were being tampered with. So, we could get him in the office and talk to him.”
Another example he gave was pulling up footage of door activities between 8:00 am and 3:00 pm. Safety protocols require that all visitors check in at the front desk during those hours. If the cameras detect that someone isn’t following the protocols, the team knows he or she needs further training on how to keep the campuses safe.
Efficient Collaboration with Law Enforcement and Authorities
Dan’s team brought in the county, the sheriff’s department and the fire department to train them on how to use Verkada’s system.
Now, when elementary schools are doing fire drills, principles share live links with the fire department. Rather than showing up at the schools and monitoring the drill there, fire department officials review the footage from their offices and can easily find bottlenecks.
It makes it much simpler to find and communicate recommendations to the schools’ teams, such as, “the students in these three classrooms should exit the campus through this specific door.”
That, in turn, keeps the schools safer than ever.
No Storage or Bandwidth Limitations
Since implementing Verkada, ZCS stopped hitting and crossing their bandwidth and storage limits. With standard definition, “we use no storage on our end. It’s all inside the cameras, and the bandwidth has been very minimal,” Dan confirms.
Simple and Fast Installation, No Training Required
The installation process was so easy, that Dan and his team decided to do it themselves.
Dan proudly remembers, “We handled 90 percent of the installation ourselves—myself and five or six guys from our department. We got on ladders for a few days, and within two weeks, we installed upwards of 500 cameras inside the buildings.”
Installing the outdoor cameras was a similar process, but Dan outsourced that due to height limitations. Nonetheless, ZCS got another 120 cameras up and running in the same two-week timeframe.
Similarly, setting up the infrastructure required minimal support. “We got the cameras and we were ready to go.” Dan explains that, “75 percent of our previous cameras were IP-based, so we just needed to switch it out. For analog cameras, we used some PoE cabling from old desktops in the classrooms, ran the cables where we needed them, and easily got those up and running.”
Ending a Lockdown Hours Early
“We talk a lot about whether we’re a school or a prison, and we certainly don’t want to be the latter.”
In late 2018, ZCS experienced a real-world security situation.
Dan recalls, “It was 7:45am and students were arriving. When one of the students being dropped off opened her car door, she saw a Tupperware container full of ammunition on the ground.” She picked it up and gave it to her mother, who brought it to the school resource officer. “That was when we went into lockdown and started looking at the cameras.”
Identifying a Potential Shooter
Dan knew that the container had, most likely, been dropped prior to when the student who found it had arrived at the school. He used the motion grid search in Verkada’s People and Vehicle Detection feature. “It shows blue markings to identify each vehicle. So, I could see a lineup of every vehicle that had gone by.” He located the footage in which the student had found the container and given it to her mother. From there, he was able to track back through the recording and see the other vehicles that had been in the area prior to that time, one of which was a truck.
“I saw someone get out of the truck and, as that person exited, something fell out of the truck and onto the ground. The camera was 500-600 feet away, so we used the zoom feature to confirm that it was the container. From there, we moved through the footage to follow that person out of the truck and into the school.” Dan was then able to use Verkada’s multi-camera feature. He continues, “I had four cameras up because I knew she was going across an area where we wouldn’t have ideal visibility with just one. Finally, I got a good shot of her face and a counselor identified her as one of our students.”
“We called her father. Turned out Dad was a hunter, and had forgotten that he left a container of extra ammunition in the truck,” Dan remembers.
Avoiding Long-Term Ramifications for Students and the School
During the lockdown, every student had to go through a metal detection wand scan to enter school. But once the sheriff’s department verified that the weapon associated with the ammunition was secured at its owner’s home, “we lifted the lockdown.” Dan says, “We started school an hour late, instead of halfway through the day.”
This was the first time ZCS middle schoolers had experienced a metal detection wand scan at school. “A lot of them were upset by it. The fact that we only had to do that for 200 kids, and not all 1,100-1,200, was really a great outcome for us.” He adds, “Had we never figured out what happened, there would have been long-term safety ramifications—with our parent community not wanting to let their kids go to school.”
In the past, Dan and his team weren’t able to locate all of the potential areas of concern. “This is the first year where there’s been a school resource officer at every building. As part of their campus safety initiatives, they can easily identify blind spots that require added monitoring and put more Verkada cameras up those areas,” Dan concludes.
Verkada has enabled Zionsville Community Schools to scale security operations with high-quality footage, smart notifications and minimum storage requirements, plus a quick resolution to a real emergency situation—providing a solution that will help keep their campuses safe today, and for years to come.