Atlanta Public Schools (APS) is an enormous school system, as are the challenges that Director of Security Operations Ralph Velez is tasked to manage. As one of the largest school districts in the state of Georgia, APS serves approximately 52,000 students across 87 schools. The district is organized into nine K-12 clusters with 58 traditional schools, 18 charter schools, six partner schools, two citywide single-gender academies and three alternative programs.

Velez is responsible for managing and monitoring all the operational security systems, spanning video surveillance, electronic card access, fire alarms, intrusion alarms and all other systems such as metal detectors and related security and safety equipment that support APS. 

There are more than 4,000 cameras deployed throughout Atlanta’s school system looking in and around buildings to see what is taking place, according to Velez. To accomplish that effectively, Velez chose Hanwha cameras. 

“I like the quality of the images captured by the Hanwha cameras and they are reasonably priced,” Velez said. “Every institution wants to get the most bang for their buck, and Hanwha cameras have proven to be very high quality, durable, lightweight and easy to install. There are a lot of plusses that have been really encouraging us to keep using Hanwha.”

Velez didn’t rely on a single security integrator for the work, which occurred over time. The cameras were installed by a number of different integrators, including Convergint Technologies, which installed the camera network at the Tuskegee Air Group Academy (TAG), which features a WWII era plane inside the school. 

Of the 4,000 in place, most are IP except for a few hundred that are still analog, which Velez and his team plan to upgrade soon to Hanwha’s most recent IP models. APS has installed Hanwha’s Wisenet X series cameras inside its schools. Based on the Wisenet 5 SoC (System on Chip), this self-developed chip delivers performance suited to a wide range of video surveillance applications, which are ideally suited to the needs of Atlanta’s many public schools. The fixed lens gives wide-angle views and the multi-sensors APS deployed around multiple campuses give added security. Velez chose Hanwha’s XNV-8020R vandal-resistant cameras for outdoor surveillance.

To manage this network of cameras, APS created its own fiber ring. This connects all APS buildings via fiber so they can manage and record all of their data back to a head-end centralized managing software. In essence, APS has its own intranet, an internal fiber network connecting its campuses managed by 24/7 IT personnel, as well as its own storage system. APS constructed its own private data center to manage the data, and opted to manage its own systems and not trust the internet to relay video feeds back to them.

“It’s just the right way to do it,” Velez explained. “Planning ahead for our school system’s potential for growth, we do have to look at where Atlanta is going to be five years from now. We need to potentially serve a larger population and I believe our system allows for that necessary growth.”

APS also put in place its own 24/7 control center — the Central Communications Room or CCR, which they often refer to as “Dispatch.” Depending on the time of day and demands, between two and five dispatchers can view cameras and alarms, receive calls for assistance, dispatch cars, monitor bus locations, report if anything is taking place at any location, and essentially handle all calls whether they are situation-related or police-related. APS is linked to the Atlanta Police Department, although the school district proactively has its own specialized police unit — the Atlanta Public Schools PD — wherein the officers are specifically assigned to a school.

It’s a relationship that builds trust, as Velez explained, as important and confidential information is exchanged. The students know they have a friend in the police and that they’re there to protect them. That has been a constructive relationship, he reports.

Supporting these efforts, Hanwha’s video surveillance capabilities are helping set a new benchmark for Atlanta schools to elevate security and protect students and staff. 

“We have been able to prevent some issues from escalating,” Velez said. “Because of video, we have been able to decipher if something that was alleged did or did not occur and, if it did occur, how it transpired. We can decipher how it actually happened. It’s critical for us to be fully transparent, and there is no doubt that video is a critical component of being able to provide indisputable information. Our responsibly is to provide APS with the best information that we can. They rely on my security department in that regard, and Hanwha’s video surveillance solutions have been pivotal in meeting our needs.”