June 25, 2022

Creston School Board approves new security system

It’s been two months since the active shooter false alarm occurred at the Early Childhood Center (ECC), and the Creston School Board is making security a priority.

At the school board meeting on Monday night, the board voted unanimously to approve the bid for $408,673.82 to Blumm Technologies for the Verkada security solution that includes video surveillance, door access, vape detection and cloud hosting/monitoring services.

In Superintendent Deron Stender’s recommendation for the security system, it states, “The current security system no longer meets the needs of the district. Multiple events in the district have continued to affirm this situation and justified a review of the current system.”

Four bids were received for the installation of new video surveillance and door security. Blumm Technology was the lowest cost and the only company able to meet the timeline structure.

“We want usability,” said Stephanie Lane, Director of IT. “We want to be able to get good data. We want to be able to run efficiently and effectively as a team.”

“Huge compliment to the district,” Lane said. “The wiring that is already there is fantastic. That would have added to the project, but we’ve already done that.” Lane describes the Verkada system as “plug and play,” and says that in many cases, they will be able to walk up, unplug the old camera and simply plug the new one in.

“There have been some minor problems with the cameras not working sometimes when we needed them to,” said Mitchell Pashek, school resource officer. “That’s how we started to look into getting this new system.”

The bid includes a five-year licensing agreement and 10 year equipment warranty. Before saying “aye,” board member Dr. Amanda Mohr wanted to clarify the ongoing incurring costs for upgrades.

“The cameras all come with a 10 year warranty,” Lane said. “The licensing cost is for five years, so we will need to renew the licensing cost.”

Based on current costs, the licensing would cost about $35,000 and includes the cost for the door, the sensors and the software licensing. This cost could change over the next five years.

One of the big changes to the security system is a vape detection system. Vendors came in and made recommendations of locations to place them around the district. Once set off, the sensor alerts the necessary individuals in the district, so they will know the exact location to visit. Cameras have been strategically placed around those areas, so if they are busy with something else, they will be able to recall that footage.

“I wouldn’t say it (vaping) is a big problem,” Pashek said. “But if there were vape detectors placed throughout the school, it would help crack down on that stuff since they are small and hard to find.”

A demo was done for three months over the winter. “We shared it with different individuals in the district,” Lane said. “We are extremely excited and very pleased with the Verkada system.”

The current system uses internal housing of the software on the servers. The system manually need to be updated and backed up. Verkada offers a cloud-based storage system to alleviate the work necessary by staff. The district has opted for a 30-day retention window to review footage.

Most often, Pashek says he is using cameras for accidents in the parking lot, stolen items or locating students who may have went to the wrong room.

Many schools around Iowa are choosing to go to these new types of security and surveillance systems. “This is the product that other IT directors are going to as well,” Lane said of the Verkada system.

The camera system will cover the ECC, elementary/middle school, high school, bus barn and include outdoor coverage for all campuses. Work is to begin in the next few weeks with an estimated completion before the start of the school year.

During the meeting, Stender presented a solution to a security issue in the district. “Communications didn’t work all the time because we didn’t have enough antenna strength inside of our buildings,” Stender said. “So when we have people inside of our buildings doing a sweep, for example, they can’t communicate with each other.” The solution is getting new antennas in all of the buildings.

“This is sophisticated because of the new radio system everyone has now,” Stender said. “We were just off the grid on this.” The antennas would take care of all buildings in the district.

On Tuesday, members of the school district visited with the city to apply for a STOP School Violence grant to fund security projects.

“We can’t not do it,” board member Sharon Snodgrass said before voting.