A Sweeping Security Transformation for Bellwood-Antis School District
See how a unified security platform and single-pane dashboard transformed Bellwood Antis School District.
Apr 26, 2021
Bellwood-Antis, a rural school district located in Blair County, Pennsylvania, faced a crossroad in its security roadmap. Much like other school districts, they owned a patchwork of disconnected security solutions. They had an access control system that only covered several of their exterior doors; a separate camera system that surveilled a fraction of their buildings; and three different mechanical key systems for the interior doors. Compounding the tangle was their assortment of security hardware: while some legacy systems were aging out, others still had life, and they knew they were not maximizing their investments.
Their choice was either to carry on in the same manner and find another ad-hoc solution – or else think strategically about their security requirements. The district chose the latter and now, five years after embarking on a long-term security plan, district administrators are energized by the transformation on their campus.
Building Security from the Foundation
“We had to look at security holistically,” reflected Mike Lingenfelter, Director of Technology at Bellwood-Antis. “We had to move beyond solving a specific use case and instead tie together our security operations at the foundation.”
While the leadership team knew their problem areas, they did not have an overarching vision of a strategic solution. Meeting with the DES security team, they were introduced to a systematic approach to security implementation. At its core, is a unified security platform that is both robust and flexible.
“The Genetec system, which we deployed for Bellwood, is open-architecture,” explained DES Security Engineer, Adam Edkins. “Once you have that platform in place, the client can unify and customize each part of their security framework into the system.”
Over the past five years, Bellwood-Antis steadily scaled with the new platform. The first step was to take stock of their existing functional hardware and integrate them into the new platform. Next, they added multiple new configurations of IP cameras, tied the surveillance system to door access, and are planning to further connect their cameras to the fob system.
“When considering the financial costs, we did not want to tear out what’s working,” remarked District Superintendent, Dr. Thomas McInroy. “With this platform, we can work in phases because it is scalable, flexible and fully integrates with existing systems. It expands as our needs change.”
The Wireless Route to Digital Transformation
In their most recent security upgrade during summer of 2019, Bellwood-Antis switched out all their wired locks for wireless solutions. Every door on campus has a wireless lock that is networked to a wireless hub attached to a nearby ceiling or wall. Their reasons for choosing wireless locks are manyfold.
Firstly, when retrofitting their older school building with internet connectivity, wireless was more cost-effective than running wire through concrete walls. On the maintenance front, doors in their school buildings are used heavily and forcefully, which was causing damage to the network wires running through the hinges. Additionally, the district tends to do minor construction from year to year, altering classroom spaces and doorways, and a wireless network is resilient to these entryway changes.
More importantly though, a robust wireless network serves a “dual purpose” as Superintendent McInroy emphasized. “It serves our students for security and academically.” McInroy readily describes how the new framework for school security harmonizes with the district’s overall roadmap for digital transformation. In the past five years, Bellwood-Antis has shifted from a school reliant on textbooks, to classrooms offering a fully integrated digital curriculum with a 1:1 iPad program – only made possible through a unified approach to the wireless network.
Individualized Access and Accessible Control
At Bellwood Antis, each staff member is given an entry fob that is individualized for their access requirements. If a faculty member misplaces their fob, the security controller deactivates the lost or stolen fob from the Genetec system and now that fob is denied entry access. This feature is especially useful for managing staff. When staff is hired or leaves the job, security can instantly allow or deny access without the inordinate task of changing mechanical locks.
The easy visibility into access control has additional benefits beyond security. Facilities Director, Tom Kovac, described how the gym equipment kept ‘wandering off.’ Through the software, he was able to see who had entered the gym and could then inform them of the correct protocols for equipment storage. He can also see how long the janitorial staff stay in each classroom, ensuring that cleaning is done thoroughly.
“The neatest feature is the remote access,” he adds. “Once, after hours, the school nurse forgot her fob and needed to get into the building. With a click of a button, I could let her in from the comfort of my home, and then see through the IP cameras when she had left.”
One-Touch Emergency Lockdown
While active threats to student safety are few and far between, the district must be prepared for crisis. An emergency button, located at the greeter entrance, is programmed to trigger a series of emergency operating procedures. Through a single touch, all fobs are deactivated except for designated administrators and law enforcement, effectively implementing a total school lockdown; an emergency notification is sent out to critical personnel; surveillance cameras start streaming at a higher resolution for crisis control. Because of the system unification, possibilities for custom triggers are both broad and defined.
A Welcoming Campus and a Unified Security Team
Notwithstanding the sophistication of the surveillance system, the Bellwood-Antis campus feels welcoming. The tools in the unified system “allow for the freedom of an open campus while holding people accountable,” acknowledged Lingenfelter. More so, the system has unified the different branches of school operations. The facilities department works collaboratively with the technology and security departments to ensure optimal performance. “It speaks volumes that we’ve rolled out a system this robust and it’s gone this smoothly.”