Texas Charter School Implements Award-Winning Security Upgrades | #schoolsaftey

This public charter school’s access and video security upgrades win SSI’s 2023 Integrated Installation of the Year Award.

Schools continue to present one of the most compelling venues in which to prove the case for integrated security solutions making a profound impact.

Deterring, mitigating, and providing forensics are critical to protecting student, faculty and visitor lives as well as safeguarding assets in K-12 and higher education locations alike. Furthermore, today’s security systems can assist campus operations and management in myriad ways to gain newfound efficiencies.

These essential systems and the peace of mind and added value they bring were not lost on the International Leadership (IL) of Texas, a free public charter school serving more than 22,000 students across 22 campuses throughout the state.

“K-8 schools in rapidly expanding residential areas present needs that small-town tax bases cannot keep up with in terms of funding schools,” says IL Texas’ Senior Director of Construction Charles Klein. “So opening charter schools was the best option.

“Along with that comes the requirement to protect students, prevent unauthorized access, and maintain constant surveillance of the students and their surroundings points of entry,” he says.

The multi-campus charter school group approached Preferred Technologies (Pref-Tech) a couple of years ago with a very specific challenge that would require innovation and intention.

“Preferred Technologies is a veteran- and minority-owned small business that offers security solutions to all but residential customers in Texas and contiguous states,” says Marketing Manager Katherine Reeves. “We take great pride in enabling customers to make sense of the complicated and ever-changing world of security technology. Moreover, we make it our mission to empower our customers with that technology.”

Image via Preferred Technology

Each of the charter schools was saddled with disparate systems. There were NVR issues, and the legacy access control system was a dinosaur. Also, the school wanted to unify access control, video management, intrusion detection, perimeter protection and vape detection.

Pref-Tech stepped in and stepped up to deliver a groundbreaking, unified access control and video management system model. The firm integrated the intrusion detection system to give IL Texas a complete system under a “single pane of glass.” The solution was designed in a fashion that allows for it to be replicated across multiple charter school locations throughout the state.

The project was so impactful and successful that it allowed Preferred Technologies to win a Security Sales & Integration 2023 Integrated Installation of the Year Award.

Several Schools Required Retrofits

With five additional schools at various stages of construction and many already completed, IL of Texas needed a plan to retrofit the existing systems to bring them up to the blueprint standards that Pref-Tech and the school collaboratively designed.

“We partnered with our regular GC, who was able to work directly with Pref-Tech,” adds Klein. “We were able to integrate them with the overall construction plan, including the electrician and IT personnel. Everyone had to contend with a compressed project timeline along with this coordination among multiple trades. Building out infrastructure of the first school was particularly noteworthy since it was the first of many to form our new security network.”

Ultimately, the systems and data they generated needed to converge into a single application that provided the safety and security teams with actionable information in real-time. All these systems and data would need to be on a single-screen view for the safety and security teams. This challenge was welcomed by the integrator.

“This organization’s challenges fit the mold of our ideal customer and the niche in which we like to operate,” adds Reeves. “Our target customers are those that allow us to be their trusted advisor, are earlier adopters of technology, and have sophisticated IT groups. We focus on complex, difficult projects in the enterprise space. This challenge, therefore, is one that we are proud to have been a part of solving.”

After learning of the opportunity in December 2021, Pref-Tech broke ground on the project in April 2022, with the bulk of its contract fulfilled by Aug. 31 of last year. Adhering to the necessary parameters set forth, that represented about half the time that would typically be allotted for such a job. Teamwork loomed large in achieving a smooth and efficient process, even when things did not go entirely as envisioned.

“TAG Electrical proved to be a friend onsite,” explains Reeves. “Being forward-thinking but without any available guidance, they had already installed penetrations necessary to get the cabling down the halls from the classrooms to the MDF/IDFs; however, it wasn’t enough by about half. With a quick evaluation by our team, Lead Technician Ruben Cuevas worked with TAG’s lead and by the end of the second week on the job we had everything we needed to be successful at running all the data, VMS, access control and intrusion cabling.”

Wide Range of Security Solutions Installed

Unification for the single pane of glass was created using the following hardware and software products:

  • Security System Platform: Genetec Security Center
  • Access Control: Genetec Synergis
  • Credentialing: HID Global
  • Video Management: Genetec Omnicast
  • Cameras: Hanwha Vision
  • Intrusion: DMP
  • Vape Detection: HALO Smart Sensors
  • Power Supplies: Life Safety Power

The new design had many benefits for the charter school including:

  • A unified application interface for the entire school system with granular permissions and privileges to accommodate varied needs in different geographies.
  • Reducing the number of physical cameras while increasing the interior and exterior camera coverage.
  • Associating cameras with access-controlled portals for video verification of door events and alarms.
  • Adding Synergis access control capabilities to the customer’s fingertips, which allows users to manage access dynamically and automate changes to the access control posture when threats emerge.
  • Integrating intrusion detection directly into Genetec Security Center software to give both users and administrators centralized use and control of the intrusion system.
  • Incorporating Halo vape sensors into bathrooms.
  • Centralizing servers and storage in the datacenter to minimize hardware costs and provide resilience, failover, and high availability.

“Genetec’s enterprise platform allows for a greater level of accessibility to security while maintaining the integrity of the system,” notes Reeves. “Life Safety Power works hand-in-hand by providing a unified power and access control point. HID has been the leader in access control edge devices for years, and Hanwha cameras were used as they provide an excellent product that the customer has come to expect since they were first deployed at their facility.”

Reeves lauds Wesco and Windy City Wire for coming through with products even as the supply chain woes continued in 2022. One of the ramifications of this bottleneck, however, was a shift to the Hanwha cameras as their availability was better than most.

“Our strong relationship with local Hanwa Rep Luc Swimberghe paid off on installation with some of the models we were less familiar with,” Reeves continues. “One of those the devil-is-in-the-details moments was when the techs unboxed the dual image cameras to discover that lenses were sold separately!

“Luc made sure we got what we needed ASAP. This was also Pref-Tech’s first time integrating the HALO-V2 vape sensor into the Genetec system, and we continue to work with the customer to further leverage that technology’s capabilities.”

In addition to transforming security, the solution provided robust network infrastructure and additional low-voltage systems. The network infrastructure included common routing and switching technologies, consistent IT closet locations, uniform cabling topologies, standardized colors and labels, and highly organized cable management. Also, the scope of the design included interactive displays for teachers and students in the front of each classroom and at each teacher’s desk.

Timeline and Tech Needed Tweaking

Implementing this enterprise security system required competence, experience, intelligent thought and attention to detail. Integrating security systems together to create a tool that enhances a client’s workflow and security posture adds another level of complexity.

Due to the diligent planning on the front end of the project, installation and implementation were efficient. Not only is the system robust and customizable, but it can be replicated across all the facilities to create consistency in the user experience.

No installation is completely without hiccups, though. As mentioned, the contracted timetable in particular posed several issues.

“Texas is seeing unprecedented growth and so speed is needed to solve the education issues in a relatively newly developed area adjacent to the Houston area,” states Reeves. “This was to serve as the template for all K-8 projects for the foreseeable future, and the first step implementing a 360° enterprise-level system. It required rigorous coordination and communication for us to arrive at four months, about half our usual, to meet the milestone so teachers could begin training.”

Another challenge Pref-Tech worked with the customer to overcome was nuisance alarms. The initial architecture of the intrusion detection system and the arming/disarming process integrated with Genetec Security Center did not conform well with the operational workflow of the customer.

With some trial and error, the integrator reworked the architecture and adjusted the security system processes to conform with the charter school’s operations. The revised solution took time to discover and implement, but Pref-Tech found the optimal solution and even reduced the cost of future implementations because the revised solution reduced hardware and cabling requirements.

Why IL Texas Prefers Pref-Tech

Pref-Tech is a company distinguished by qualities that help it shine in projects such as the charter schools one. Its PGRIT (Professionalism, Grit, Right, Intelligent Thought, and Trusted Advisor) core values are the basis for everything it does.

“From the beginning of the design phase to the turn of the last screw, PGRIT motivates what we do and how we do it,” says Preferred Technologies President Shaun Castillo. “Our private, active ownership drives a different level of relationship. Deep relationships allow us to creatively resolve customer pain and build long-lasting, mutually beneficial partnerships.”

The firm’s robust, sophisticated IT services and software development team instills customer trust in receiving a tailor-fit solution that best accommodates their needs. Self-performing rather than subcontracting work also helps Pref-Tech render a high level of craftsmanship and service due to heavy investment in its own employees. The company guarantees superior customer experiences. No wonder IL Texas continuously praises Pref-Tech’s work.

“During a pivotal moment in time with increased concerns over school safety, Pref-Tech has been precisely the partner we needed to navigate our way to the best and most secure enterprise platform for our security needs,” asserts Klein. “Throughout this process, Pref-Tech listened to our organization annunciate our needs and goals in terms of securing our students and staff so that they can proceed with the invaluable work of producing the next generation’s leaders without fear for their safety.

“They applied their depth of knowledge of multiple platforms and within multiple school environments to recommend a platform that would allow us to integrate our numerous siloed locations and automate processes for issuing the proper access to existing and incoming employees, all while keeping the bottom line in mind. With the infrastructure in place, now we can expand with ease and peace of mind.”

Despite the aforementioned hurdles, Pref-Tech’s seasoned expertise combined with the vision of the charter school have made this project a winner and laid a strong foundation for future project enhancements and expansions. “Fully realizing the potential of the new system, we are exploring ways to detect and alert personnel to gunshots, physical confrontation and a host of additional analytics,” Klein states.

As this group of charter schools opens new buildings and continues to find improvements and tweaks they want to implement in their system, Pref-Tech figures to be there brainstorming and working alongside them to improve the safety and efficiency of their already cutting-edge schools.

“We recently helped the customer complete a central datacenter for media storage and management and we are working with them to fully leverage their bandwidth and storage capabilities as the number of schools increases,” confirms Reeves. “We have been able to make recommendations that lighten the load and costs associated on premises while increasing the overall security profile.”

Scott Goldine is former editor-in-chief and associate publisher of CS sister publication, Security Sales & Integration. This article was originally featured in SSI and has been edited.

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