‘It’s always better to be safe’: Surveillance on Gunn’s campus

In April, Palo Alto High School administrators used on-campus security cameras to help identify the perpetrator of a school-shooting threat, calling attention to the role security systems play on Palo Alto Unified School District campuses. While PAUSD has consistently maintained protocols to ensure student safety at Gunn, additional measures — including upgrading a security-camera system — have been taken in recent years to address safety concerns. 

A Cisco Meraki camera installed on a Bow Gym overhang. (Amann Mahajan)

Principal Wendy Stratton attributes improvements in the quality of captured information, such as sound and video quality, to Gunn’s new Cisco Meraki camera system, installed in 2021. Thirty to 40 cameras are present throughout campus, including at the athletic fields and in the parking lot, though there are none in classrooms or locations that violate student privacy. According to Assistant Principal Kevin Rouse, Gunn administrators and the Palo Alto Police Department can access the information captured by the Cisco Meraki cameras through an online portal, since the system has cloud-based storage and is managed by the district. District funding has allowed for an increased number of cameras near the entrances to the campus to maintain accurate records of people entering and exiting campus. 

The security system not only helps administrators track down threats, but also yields valuable information on campus disturbances, such as bike thefts and student altercations. “It provides the information that validates a ‘he-said-she-said’ (situation),” Stratton said. “Now we have that evidence on top of what one person might have said.” 

A Cisco Meraki camera mounted on a K-building ceiling. (Amann Mahajan)

In addition to a more robust security-camera system, Stratton explained that the district often works to rewrite safety protocols in response to increasing concerns around student safety at PAUSD school locations. Some situations may also require police involvement: A weapon threat at Gunn in September 2021 resulted in a lockdown and caused the Palo Alto Police Department to become involved in investigation efforts. “Anything that happens at either site (results in working) directly with the district,” she said. “When incidents have occurred, part of the protocol is to partner with PAPD, (who) will often take the lead once they’re engaged.” 

According to Stratton, Gunn’s open campus necessitates greater vigilance from the campus supervisor and administrators overall. “The administrative team and the campus supervisors (are) not only observing different zones on campus, but (are) also being visible as much as possible (to discourage misbehavior),” she said.

Michalis Gordon, assistant principal of crisis response, encourages students to report suspicious activity to administrators and teachers, as the security cameras do not cover all areas of campus. “It’s always better to be safe than to think that (there) is nothing to worry about,” he said.