Security Gets High-Tech Boost In Dallas
Live Large. Think Big.” It’s the new slogan for the city of Dallas, Tex, and it describes the essence and vitality of a city built on big dreams, freshly blazed trails and an attitude that all things are possible. The diverse city offers a thriving culinary scene, a leading arts district, professional sports and trendy entertainment districts.
Dallas is the third-largest city in Texas and the ninth-largest in the United States. As of 2009, the population of Dallas was at 1.3 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Founded in 1841 and formally incorporated as a city in February, 1856, the city’s economy is primarily based on banking, commerce, telecommunications, computer technology, energy and transportation, home to several Fortune 500 companies.
FROM 40 CAMERAS TO 152Video surveillance of public areas began in 2007 in Dallas, and the camera count has grown steadily since then. The funding for the first 40 cameras came from the Meadows Foundation, and the Downtown Dallas Merchants Association later funded an increase in the number of cameras. BearCom, a nationwide provider of wireless communications equipment and solutions, originally designed and installed the system for the Dallas Police Department in early 2007. The company has also continued to add cameras to the system since then, continuing with 16 more cameras in Jubilee Park the same year. The next year, 2008, saw an unprecedented 27 percent reduction in crime incidents in Jubilee Park, much of it attributed to the cameras. Surveillance equipment in the Jubilee Park area and Uptown was purchased by business associations in those areas and donated to the police department.
A total of 152 cameras have currently been installed throughout the city of Dallas, making it one of the largest municipal wireless video surveillance systems anywhere in the country. Live video is transmitted using 165 mesh nodes from Firetide. The video is managed by Ocularis, physical security information management platform from OnSSI, which was chosen for its ease of use and advanced instant investigation tools such as the time/motion slicer engine and push video alerting. Ocularis provides mission-critical information conveniently and efficiently, allowing for fewer officers to monitor more cameras.
TO MONITOR OR NOTMonitoring of the cameras is the greatest expense, and the Dallas Police Department has set up guidelines specifying that it will only monitor cameras that are installed in so-called Target Action Area Grid (TAAG) areas, where the crime rate is among the highest in the city. If a neighborhood or business association wants cameras in other non-TAAG areas in the future, they will have to contract with an outside firm for monitoring.
Another continuing expense is maintenance. “Our biggest thing was that we didn’t take into consideration the cleaning of dust collecting on lenses,” says Crawford. Even equipment donated to the city generates ongoing maintenance costs for repair, and the city of Dallas is currently taking bids for maintenance of the existing system – one contract to cover the monitoring center and another to cover the outlying components of the system such as the cameras, mesh nodes and backhauls. The contracts would only cover repairs; additional upgrades would have to come through donations.
OPERATORS HAVE RESPONSIBILITIESThe people monitoring the systems are police patrol people, not technologists, and the Ocularis software makes it easy for a layperson to operate the system. The department used the system’s video analytics functionality when there was a highly publicized trial at the courthouse a couple of years ago. Tight courthouse security ensured that there was only one point of entry or exit, and Dallas police video monitor operators used the video analytics function to “paint” the courthouse door using the software to instantly alert operators to movement within the “painted” area.
Privacy concerns have not been an issue. “Our cameras only patrol public areas,” says Crawford. “The cameras can’t pan up to look into windows or office buildings, but point down at public areas. Part of the training our camera operators go through is to ensure they do it properly. We make sure operators understand they have responsibilities; it’s the same as a police officer. It’s like they are seven-foot police officers looking down.”
Tech PartnersDallas partners with the following companies to keep a close eye on the city:
• BearCom originally designed and installed the video surveillance system for the Dallas Police Department in early 2007.
• Pan-tilt-zoom cameras from Sony and Panasonic.
• Live video is transmitted using 165 mesh nodes from Firetide.
• Fifteen wireless point-to-point (PTP) backhaul links from BridgeWave Communications are used to transmit data traffic. The city of Dallas also uses 10 Motorola PTP backhauls.
• The video is managed by Ocularis, physical security information management platform from OnSSI.