Regional Network Targets Safety in Minnesota

Inter-city security solution
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The main command center for this regional system is located in Minneapolis.

Eight cities covering more than 200 square miles around the greater Minneapolis area have formed a valuable relationship by connecting the municipalities’ video surveillance to protect citizens and quickly resolve incidents that can cross their borders. With open platform video management software (VMS) networked between the cities, the individual municipalities control their own security monitoring, yet quickly connect with neighboring systems for collaborative surveillance missions.

The challenge: The greater Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota, area is composed of 45 municipalities with similar citywide surveillance needs. Within that space, security integrator Pro-Tec Design identified the parallel and individual needs of each city and their various departments.

For example, the police department in one city has a variety of unique applications different from the IT department of another. The widespread commonality for all cities was the need for an improved IP VMS system to replace legacy analog systems.

“We had a collective idea between numerous municipalities to centralize local systems with the same IT backbone,” said Tim Ferrian, director of sales and marketing for Pro-Tec Design. “Every city can adopt software from the [VMS] platform to have its own system. However, there are times administrators may want to open access to their system to solve a mutual incident, and they can get assistance from neighboring emergency services, requiring as much help as possible to solve a problem. Sharing camera feeds has been a valuable yet easy-to-integrate solution that each municipality has eagerly installed.”

The solution: The municipalities, working with the integrator, chose a common open-platform VMS that allows each city to individually monitor and secure its own assets, be it a government building, transit station or city-owned business. The open platform enables each city to design and install the hardware and software that meets its own needs, providing a flexible solution that can also be shared across locations to leverage more resources.

In this case, the VMS software chosen was XProtect from Milestone Systems. The VMS serves the core needs of each municipality but offers versatile feature sets and client interfaces that address the unique needs of each department.

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The system's Strategic Information Center in Minneapolis

With the success of the initial video installation, Pro-Tec began expanding into additional applications, such as integration with a point-of-sale system for government-owned retail stores. With the VMS system now in place, the cities are saving money by efficiently deploying emergency services, knowing exactly what they are dealing with before sending out large first responder teams.

INDEPENDENT SYSTEMS

Each city views its video independently of one another. There is a central place called the Regional Traffic Management Center operated by MNDOT that views all the cameras (700 or so) on the highways and freeways. MNDOT offers feeds to many of the cities of the cameras that are located in the individual jurisdictions.

Minneapolis/St. Paul make up the most populous area in the state of Minnesota—a sprawling metropolis with a population of more than three million people. About 10 years ago, when the industry began widely adopting IP technology in surveillance environments, Pro-Tec saw an opportunity to extoll the virtues of IP security technology, while also helping cities solve problems that developed with the use of outdated analog systems.

This was not a fad to Ferrian, who saw the shift to IP surveillance as the obvious path for systems in the future. Pro-Tec’s relationships with many cities in Minnesota developed from a foundation of card access control and video surveillance, so a transition into network-based surveillance that could integrate the two was a logical next step.

A RING OF PROTECTION

Pro-Tec developed the idea for a collective solution between municipalities based on a standardized IT backbone. With each area using the same platform, it would maintain its own system yet open up the option to share video feeds in case of an incident or emergency that crosses town borders. In addition, with a combined VMS service, updates and maintenance would be streamlined for quick response.

“We began working individually with the cities and now assist quite a few—three more have signed on as we moved into 2015,” Ferrian said. “The agencies own and operate each individual system, but if there is any incident where a neighboring town is also using the same platform and needs help in an emergency, it is convenient and expeditious if the other organizations can step in with their own camera feeds.”

There are many common themes within city surveillance: Watching out for the visitors of city halls, keeping track of persons in custody at police stations, providing evidence for investigations, protecting staff and equipment, monitoring community pools to protect the government from any liability and watching intersections for public works operations (moving snow, salting roads), among numerous other functions. With these commonalities, each city also has unique needs for surveillance whether they are monitoring a busy farmers’ market, senior centers, community sporting events, historical landmarks, water treatment facilities, water towers and many others.

MORE INFO Axis: www.axis.com

Milestone Systems: www.milestonesys.com

Pivot 3: www.pivot3.com

Pro-Tec Design: www.pro-tecdesign.com

Eight cities surrounding Minneapolis were currently linked at the end of 2014 via the VMS solution developed by Pro-Tec include Shoreview, Farmington, Brooklyn Center, Minnetonka, Maple Grove, Brooklyn Park, Edina and Minneapolis. In addition, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT), Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, and the Minneapolis Convention Center are included within this Minneapolis “Ring of Protection.”

PROTECTING ASSETS

With a full fiber network connecting most of Brooklyn Center’s government buildings, IT Director Patty Hartwig looked to take advantage of the technology opportunities available. Prior to the fiber network, many of the city’s buildings either had no video surveillance or used standalone analog surveillance systems. The fiber network allowed for a cost effective video surveillance solution, including one shared location for storage.

A flexible solution was required to manage the diverse needs of the city. In addition to general government operations, Brooklyn Center owns and operates a convention center, two liquor stores and a golf course. All business units are now networked with the video solution. Additionally, administrators in the police department, general government facilities and two of the four schools in the district—an elementary and high school—are also integrated into the video system.

“Ease of use was extremely important when deciding on our VMS installation,” said Hartwig. “We did our research looking for user-friendly, adaptable and easy-to-modify solutions. Our system needed to play back and pull up video in an instant. We put an extreme value on the VMS protecting our city assets, so we required a product that would be here today, tomorrow and in the future.”

The city’s 90-plus cameras are positioned in six buildings and expansion plans include the addition of more than 70 cameras. Milestone Mobile is also deployed on tablets and smartphones for the eight administrators on the system to access the video from smartphones and tablets.

Axis cameras were primarily used for the various installations. Pro-Tec Design developed a checklist it uses to evaluate the technology partners the company chooses, and has found Axis to be consistently reliable and high quality.

Brooklyn Center integrated the point-of-sale systems at its liquor stores with a software module that brings up video associated with register transactions to monitor and document what happens during a sale. The integration provides a time-synchronized interface linking receipt data together with corresponding video, extending the monitoring of operations to include actual cash register data. This allows the city to identify problems involving POS and credit cards to reduce shrinkage and fraud, providing a safer shopping environment.

POLICE FORCE RING

The legacy analog VHS systems installed throughout the city of Farmington were not only time-consuming to view and monitor, but extremely difficult to work with if an event occurred at government facilities, including two city-owned liquor stores. There was no communication between the disparate systems—a completely inefficient means of surveillance.

With a new city hall, one of the first steps for improving the protection of citizens included developing a citywide monitoring solution to unify surveillance processing, fully supported by the fiber network across the city. For its scalability and future-proof technology, the VMS was integrated into Farmington’s government agencies in five buildings to help support the police.

“It’s easy to identify the hard costs of a project of this magnitude,” said Farmington Police Sargent Jim Constantineau. “But for the long run, we asked how much money will this system save us. We can efficiently access video for investigations from anywhere with an Internet connection, saving time and allowing our officers to be more productive during their shifts. Retrieving stolen property or knowing what happens in an accident has improved our response and the costs of running the city. We expect the system to continue to provide us with great value as we scale up.”

In addition to monitoring for safety in its liquor stores and senior centers, Farmington relies on the VMS to provide high-definition screen shots of accused criminals and posts them to social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

“We haven’t publicized the surveillance system yet, but we do rely on the publicity and leads on criminals generated from social media to help us even further in solving criminal acts,” Constantineau said.

PUBLIC SAFETY ISSUES

The City of Edina was looking for more expandability when making its transition from analog to digital, wanting more cameras without adding more expensive analog converters to its inventory. The surveillance cameras deployed throughout the township are mainly used for simple security monitoring and general safety over the fiber network.

“The process of installing the VMS was very simple; the interface is easy to use and very straightforward,” states Nick Lovejoy, an IT specialist with the City of Edina. “It’s evident in our day-to-day operations that the software has helped us improve services in the city, addressing and solving many issues with a quick turnaround.”

Surveillance for the city includes an aquatics center (16 cameras), a training facility (four cameras), public works building (18 cameras) and water treatment plant (13 cameras). All are monitored for the general safety of those working and visiting, and the protection of publicly owned equipment.

Employees across the city have access to the system, but Lovejoy can easily restrict access to only see cameras linked to their facilities, thanks to solution’s beneficial use of Microsoft’s Active Directory for user management.

“Eventually, anywhere we had analog cameras, we’re going to design the system to be completely reliant on Milestone through the newly installed digital solution,” said Lovejoy. “The growth potential of our system is only limited by our ability to get budget approval on the latest hardware additions.”

Video storage across these jurisdictions is handled several different ways. Pivot 3 was a big part of the process during the first few years of the implementation, and there is probably more than 300 TB of storage from Pivot 3. Over time, many cities have moved to self-supporting methods of storage. Pivot3 is still a popular choice, and Pro-Tec Design also uses storage products from Iomnis Surveillance Solutions for many implementations. No other software is used besides the Smart Client, Web Client and Mobile Client for video reviewing.

THE BENEFITS

The solution works to assist the administrators as they protect the public, fight fires, manage operations and infrastructure—whatever the needs of each municipality may be. Video is a useful tool in each person’s busy job, and ease of use is vital. The system’s intuitiveness ensures time-efficient monitoring.

As each municipality grows and expands its coverage, Pro-Tec and its customers are able to grow with the networked video solution, which addresses individual system and user needs, from management to anyone who shares the system’s functionality. The open platform technology allows each city and its many departments to use the camera or server they find the most cost-effective or efficient; unlimited options are available for ongoing applications in the Ring of Protection.

“We see cooperation between all of the agencies involved, not in a sense that they have to bolt everything together, but we’re providing the framework where we can flip a switch to connect the entire area if necessary,” Ferrian said.

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