Launched in 2007, Operation Shield is an initiative of the Atlanta Police Foundation and the Atlanta Police Department (APD) to generate effective communication between the APD and both the public and private sectors and create a force multiplier for crime prevention and emergency preparedness. Through the Operation Shield Video Integration Center (VIC), APD officers are able to use software to monitor video feeds from both public and private sector cameras. The video surveillance network system is an open platform, allowing existing cameras to be integrated and monitored at one location.

Among the organizations whose video surveillance systems are tied in to the VIC are the Georgia Aquarium, the CNN Center and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Also on this list is the Atlanta Public School System, which has integrated its video surveillance systems as part of an overall process of gradually upgrading from analog to IP video technologies over time.

A main driver behind integrating the schools’ video surveillance systems into the police department’s integration center – and a driver for Operation Shield as a whole – has been to enhance emergency preparedness by enabling police, fire and other emergency professionals to better assess, prepare, respond and communicate prior to arriving at the scene of an incident. The enhanced situational awareness these integrated video systems provide is made possible using OnSSI’s Ocularis video-centric PSIM (physical security information management) software. As a result, the school system and police department benefit from an efficient, cost-effective IP video surveillance solution that provides police with real-time access to video feeds directly from more than 150 of Atlanta’s public schools in the event of an incident or event.

“By integrating the video surveillance systems from the public schools with the police department’s system, we’ve significantly enhanced safety and security at Atlanta schools,” says Tony Hunter, Chief Information Officer for Atlanta Public Schools. 

When a predetermined event triggers an alarm at one of the schools whose video surveillance systems have been integrated, operators in the APS monitoring center receive an alert and notify the Atlanta PD. Video from the school is pulled up in the integration center, and officers there are able to view live and review recorded video from cameras in the zone within the school where the alarm was triggered to assess the situation and determine what, if any, response is needed. In the event of an emergency situation, dispatchers can continually deliver up-to-the-minute updates based on live video to first responders to provide immediate situational awareness to assist in the response.

“The ability to relay real-time situational awareness about what is going on inside a school to those in the field not only improves the effectiveness of the response but also ensures the safety of both first responders and those who are inside the school,” says Lt. Leanne Browning of the Atlanta Police Department. “The added capability to push live video to our mobile command vehicle and allow those in the field to control the cameras and move them as needed is an even more powerful tool for mitigating the situation as quickly and safely as possible.”

The system has also proven effective in non-emergency situations, as the school system and police department have been able to capture video of break-ins and identify individuals involved in incidents. The system has also been credited with solving an ongoing problem at Atlanta’s public schools. Prior to implementing the system, several schools faced a number of copper thefts from schools’ HVAC systems.

“The mere presence of cameras with motion detection capabilities and increased lighting in previously vulnerable areas has reduced the number of thefts dramatically,” Hunter says.

“Privacy is of the utmost importance to us, and the attitude has always been that our interaction with the APS system should only be in the case of a dangerous situation or to help them out if a crime has occurred,” Browning says. “As far as monitoring goes, if an emergency arises the VIC will be alerted and officers will begin to access the cameras at the location where the incident is taking place.”

So far, roughly 1,000 analog security cameras have been upgraded and integrated into the APD system, but there’s still more work to be done. In order to maintain the budget-friendly nature of its system-wide analog-to-IP upgrade, APS has been converting a school or two at a time. The ultimate goal, Hunter says, is to get all schools in the APS upgraded and integrate those systems into the APD system. An additional goal is to integrate alarms directly into the VIC as well as to the APS monitoring center.

“Right now, we already have the capability to view video from the schools in our center, but the alarm function is not integrated with the police department side yet. Where we’d like to go is to integrate those alarms in such a way that if an alarm goes off in one school, the video from the camera automatically pops up in the integration center for an officer to review,” Hunter says.

“The issue of safety in all schools is one that I consider to be very important,” says Olufemi Aina, Executive Director, IT Infrastructure & Production Services, Atlanta Public Schools. “The fact that the Police Department 911 center now has the ability to quickly access our video cameras to provide tactical support to officers real-time (in an emergency) is something that I think all K-12 schools should consider or aspire to achieve. Being on the front seat of an initiative that impacts our kids in such a manner is personally satisfying.”

For the city of Atlanta, implementation of the solution across so many diverse organizations within the municipality helps to create a collaborative environment that enables law enforcement to improve awareness and response to unfolding events. Such a cooperative approach to security creates a new and evolving model for many other municipalities, organizations and enterprises. By enabling numerous entities to join together through the use of video surveillance, the Operation Shield initiative is promoting the concept of a connected community where strength is amplified through the participation of many.