Security Cameras Help Deter Fires at Encinal

In January, Encinal High School (EHS) installed eight surveillance cameras in response to the overwhelming number of fire alarms being pulled throughout the course of 2019. The cameras were an attempt to deter students from pulling alarms and setting fires on campus. 

Before the installation of the cameras, EHS was using private security guards, different from school police or campus security, to monitor the campus. They were hired due to the intentional fires caused by students.

“I think the new security is helpful in creating better circumstances,” said EHS Principal Daniel Hurst. “It can be even better if we have permanent campus security to establish better relationships with students. They are doing what they need to do.”

Issues started in 2018 when students were pulling fire alarms to get out of class. After the pull stations were removed in the summer of 2019, students resorted to starting fires that would set off the alarms. Although there is no official documentation of how many false fire alarms have been pulled, the number of known evacuations is clear.

“There were five evacuations (in 2019) that I believe resulted in the fire department responding, and one false alarm by the alarm company that resulted in the fire department responding,” said Hurst.
Alarms were happening so often that students and staff didn’t know which were real and which were fraudulent.

“It was annoying at first, like, ‘Here we go again,’” said junior James Glaviano. “It desensitized me from being alarmed, which is concerning if there is a real fire.”

Hurst mentioned the reasons why he believes the fires are occurring and how he plans to combat such events.

“It might be somebody is a pyromaniac, or could be somebody that is just angry at the world, or it could be a student or more than one student who feels disenfranchised and unconnected to the school and doesn’t value what many of us value,” Hurst said. “But I can take some Hurst explained. “But I can take some steps to address if it is any of those things. One is to work on the school culture here so we have the kind of instruction going on in classrooms, and the atmosphere that is warm and welcoming to all.”

Security is one thing, but cameras are another. A security guard can only be present for so long, cameras are present 24/7.

“Eight cameras are part of the first phase of installation; more cameras are planned to be installed,” Hurst said.

“Currently there are two different kinds of manufacturers of cameras, and we’re deciding which is better to use for the rest of the system.”

The school placed the cameras in areas that are liable to catch those who might be causing the fires, primarily the restrooms.

Realizing the severity of the fires, Superintendent Pasquale Scuderi assisted in streamlining the process of acquiring cameras for Encinal.

“What may seem like a small or manageable prank could easily become a major structural danger, and I am pretty certain that the young people starting these fires are unaware or unable to grasp how much their actions put the larger community’s safety in question,” said Scuderi. “Ultimately we need students to join us in insisting that this type of activity is unacceptable and confide in a trusted adult if they see another student putting the community at risk.”

There have been no fires on campus since the installation of the security cameras.

But everything comes with a price. Every time the fire alarm is pulled, the fire department is called, which costs the school money. Alameda Fire Department charges $296 to respond to a false alarm. After the fourth false alarm, the cost increases to $606.



Rafael Arredondo and Alvin Li are members of Joshua Linville’s English and publication design class at Encinal High School.