Bill Zalud

Here’s the thing. I’ve lived in Chicago all my life. On the same block. Most folks outside of Chicago always ask how I like living in the Loop. It doesn’t matter that I live 25 blocks from the Loop, which is downtown Chicago circled by several lines of elevated commuter trains.

In some security ways, Chicago has not been at the leading edge. It dragged its authorities-with-jurisdiction feet on integrating life safety and security. It still doesn’t permit PVC. Grandfathering is a Chicago way of life. But when it comes to emergency preparedness, use of security cameras, incident reporting and grabbing federal homeland security dollars, there’s no one better than Mayor Richie Daley.

He built an impressive 911 Center. He established a high tech emergency command center. He’s networking more than 2,000 security cameras at government buildings, transportation sites, schools and even some corporate locations like Boeing. He has pole-mounted outdoor police security cameras in tough neighborhoods; experimented with “gun shot” sensors tied to the cameras; is pushing a migration to intelligent video; and he just loves red light cameras as much for the automated revenue generation as for the safety factor.

The Secretary of the federal Homeland Security Department, Michael Chertoff, joined Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and Andrew Velasquez, executive director, Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications, in touring the City’s 911 Center last month.


My City Hall is working with its own law enforcement and technology folks to create a kind of fiber-based neural network to sense, monitor and react to events at hundreds of thousands of points. Downtown businesses and office high-rise buildings can – for a fee – join the Chicago security video network and receive 911 Center monitoring.

Recently, one of Richie’s allies on the City Council proposed legislation that would mandate indoor and outdoor security cameras at Chicago businesses open more than 12 hours a day. Richie also wants an ordinance to mandate cameras at exits to bars for late-night monitoring. If my Lincoln Park experience counts, the images would mostly capture pictures of Twentysomethings losing their three am burrito and Red Bull snacks.

“Cameras prevent crime,” Daley tells me. No doubt.

Probably about 12,000 businesses would be folded into the legislation; a little more than half are restaurants. Some business groups are opposed to the legislation. Jerry Roper, an official with the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, has warned Richie that such a mandate will adversely affect businesses, the city’s economy and consumers. For example, some businesses would reduce their service hours to less than 12 hours a day to avoid the extra expense. Employees will lose their jobs. And, covering the bases, Roper and other business leaders believe that tax incentives and a phased-in approach must be part of any final legislation.

Balancing act

Is requiring security video at private businesses a good idea?

Let’s not jump to conclusions. Mandates, requirements, laws, codes, protocols, standards – all force businesses to do something they may not want or think they cannot afford to do. But requirements are, in many ways, the heart of the success and growth of life safety and security.

And during these days of technology advances, reductions in force and heightened homeland security efforts, cities that stand above and beyond others are well positioned. There are plenty of goodies in Chicago’s just opened City Incident Center. For example, there’s an 18-foot high-resolution digital video wall for security video display, breaking news and Doppler radar. On another wall, a movable video track allows city security monitoring personnel to move displays around the room to better handle specific incidents.