Jordan Heilweil, president of integration firm Total Recall, points out a feature in the security control room on Ellis Island in New York.(Photo by Mary Ellen Dawley.)
Video surveillance has come a long way from the days of fuzzy NTSC pictures on aged black-and-white monitors.
However, the detail revealed by today’s high definition video cameras is only a starting point for maintaining effective CCTV security: Intelligent video management systems (VM systems) that actively watch for anomalies within the cameras’ views, and alert them when they occur, are also necessities. This is because VM systems relieve human monitors of the attention-numbing monotony of watching dozens of static camera views for hours on end―saving the humans’ attention for those cameras where something is actually happening on screen.
VM systems are being used in government CCTV applications where reliable security through video surveillance is a must. Understanding their value requires looking at such applications in detail, two of the most impressive being the 2013 Inauguration of President Barack Obama, and the new CCTV surveillance system at the Statue of Liberty in New York.
PROTECTING THE PRESIDENT
Monday, January 21, 2013, marked the public inaugural ceremony of re-elected President Barack Obama in front of the U.S. Capital building in Washington. For the estimated 800,000 people who turned up on that cold day to mark the occasion, it was a chance to celebrate the genius of American democracy made real yet again.
President Barack Obama watches his 2013 inauguration parade from inside this temporary enclosure on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington.
For the U.S. Park Police (USPP), however, the inaugural ceremony was a security challenge of epic proportions; one they tackled in part by installing an HDTV-CCTV surveillance system onsite.
The system included Axis Q6032-E PTZ SD (pan tilt zoom with 36x optical zoom) and Axis Q-6035-E 1080p-ready PTZ (20x optical zoom) dome network cameras. They were deployed on the National Mall and along the inaugural parade route, and were linked either by wired or wireless network connections.
The SD cameras were used for general situational awareness of what was going on, while the HD cameras were used to watch the president, high-ranking officials and invited guests. The video was routed back to the USPP’s command posts inside the event, and was also shared with 30-plus public agencies that were also helping to maintain security.
“The cameras are equipped with onboard analytical algorithm-based VMS software that watches for changes in their pixel arrays, and alerts the operators to changes that don’t match what should be in view,” said Major David Mulholland, the USPP’s commander of technical services. “This includes roadways that should be clear of moving people and unauthorized vehicles, distortions that resemble smoke, and the sudden unexpected movement of crowds in designated areas. Say that someone had set off a smoke bomb on the National Mall: The Axis VM system would have immediately noted the sudden appearance of smoke and the sudden movement of spectators, and alerted to the USPP to the relevant camera view(s).”
Fortunately, no such events marred the 2013 inaugural ceremony―in fact, nothing significantly out of the ordinary took place. Nevertheless, the VM system helped the USPP safely control crowds in cooperation with the city’s Metro Police.
“We had the Mall divided into crowd-holding areas, so that we could ensure that the areas didn’t become too crowded,” said Major Mulholland. “Using our video surveillance system and VMS, our people could alert the Metro Police when a given section was getting full, so that they could begin sending newcomers into the next one. Such was the system that just trying to stop newcomers at the Mall when a section was full would not have worked: We had to start redirecting at the security checkpoints before the problem occurred.”
SAFEGUARDING LADY LIBERTY
The president’s 2013 inaugural was an example of a temporary VMS-assisted CCTV installation. The iconic Statue of Liberty is an example of a permanent one.
Designed and put in place by Total Recall Corporation, a New York-based systems integrator, Lady Liberty’s new advanced CCTV surveillance system uses more than 150 Axis HDTV IP cameras, BriefCam video synopsis software (for after-incident quick reviews of CCTV video), DragonWave packet microwave radio system, Milestone Systems’ video management software, RGB Spectrum Broadcast Network Processor (BNP) multiviewer equipment, Pivot3 digital storage, and Scallop Imaging 200-degree panoramic cameras. It was installed in 2013 at a cost of $4 million, as part of repairs to the Statue after Superstorm Sandy devastated the site in 2012. Lady Liberty’s advanced CCTV system replaced an outmoded analog CCTV system.
“We were actually working on installing the new system prior to Superstorm Sandy,” said Jordan Heilweil, Total Recall’s president. “The storm disrupted our schedule and changed our plans. Eventually, we found ourselves working through the night after the construction workers departed, getting the new system into place.”
Milestone System’s VMS provides the U.S. Park Police with the ability to keep a very close eye on all its CCTV cameras in real-time or recorded video, via their command center in nearby Ellis Island. They’ve got a lot of territory to watch: The IP wireless-networked CCTV system covers Liberty and Ellis Islands, plus Battery Park in New York City and Liberty State Park in New Jersey―where ferries depart to bring 4.3 million visitors to the Statue of Liberty each year.
“Having a VMS allows the USPP to focus their monitoring effectively on anomalies that are happening where they shouldn’t be happening,” Heilweil said. “Meanwhile, the BriefCam system allows them to quickly scan through hours of logged CCTV footage, to find such anomalies after the fact within minutes.”
Although serious threats top of the USPP’s surveillance list, the system can also help in more mundane situations.
“For instance, we had a woman come to us after she had lost her husband on the site,” Heilweil said. “Using the BriefCam feature, we were able to find him quickly on video, and determine that he had boarded the wrong boat by mistake!”
There’s an old saying in the computing programming world: garbage in, garbage out. This means that a processing system is only as good as the quality of the content fed into it.
When it comes to VM systems, quality comes down to video quality: To be able to get the most of this technology’s ability to detect the activities of people and items that shouldn’t be there, the video has to be sufficiently high resolution to support both machine and human video analysis.
In the case of the 2013 presidential inaugural ceremony, this meant covering key areas with HDTV camera with fast-responding PTZ features.
“We not only needed to detect that someone is carrying a suspicious-looking package, but to be able to zoom in on them quickly to figure out whether it was a coffee cup or a bomb,” Mulholland said.
At the Statue of Liberty, effective VMS also requires high resolution images, plus extremely reliable data backbones.
“We cannot afford dropouts,” Heilweil said. “This is why our IP wireless networks are high capacity, high-speed and robust. Looking at our camera feeds, they are so consistent that you can’t tell that they are not wired.”
VM systems are also not meant to replace human monitors, but rather to supplement them.
“The human observer is still the central analyser and decision maker,” Mulholland said. “A good VMS simply filters out low-priority video feeds and focuses the humans on those feeds that could indicate problems, to let the human monitors do a better job.”
For government agencies that rely on video surveillance for security, it is important to include VMS capabilities in their new CCTV installations, and add them where possible to existing ones. That government clients as important as the 2013 Inaugural Ceremony and the Statue of Liberty rely on VMS speaks volumes about its usefulness―and provides an example as bright as Lady Liberty’s legendary torch.