Using Surveillance to Protect Thousands of Low-Income Properties
The Allegheny County Housing Authority (ACHA) was founded in 1937 with the mission to provide low-income families and senior citizens in Allegheny County with safe and decent housing. By using innovative housing designs, involving residents in decision-making, and implementing creative programs, the ACHA strives to improve the image of public housing and help families make progress on the road to self-sufficiency.
A political subdivision of the state of Pennsylvania, the ACHA is federally funded and owns and operates roughly 3,300 low-income public housing units, including 20 high-rise buildings and 19 family sites located in and around Pittsburgh. The housing authority also manages approximately 5,800 additional low-income properties under the Section 8 housing program.
Maintaining a safe and secure environment for residents of these properties is a critical factor for the ACHA, which is the largest housing authority in Western Pennsylvania. The task of ensuring these goals are met belongs to Chief of Police Michael J. Vogel, who oversees the ACHA’s police force. While many of the surveillance systems implemented at the ACHA’s sites are not large, they are important because of the amount of vandalism, theft and other situations that occur. Video from all of these systems is managed by the police force from a central location, known as the Real Time Crime Center.
Unfortunately, the ACHA’s previous surveillance system had become more of a hindrance than a help in providing security. For example, among the many analog cameras installed at Dumplin Hall, one of the ACHA’s properties, some were not functioning at all. To make matters worse, the cameras installed at the 12-story high rise were connected to DVRs that hadn’t been programmed correctly, causing them to shut down at times. Without a UPS backup, a power loss would also cause the DVRs to shut off. When power was restored, they would turn back on but wouldn’t begin recording on their own. This left the site unmonitored and open to potentially dangerous situations.
These conditions were unacceptable to Chief Vogel, who decided a change was needed. Stuck with analog technology that wasn’t moving the police force into the future and feeling dissatisfied with the lack of attention and service the police force was getting from its provider, Chief Vogel called systems integrator PSX Inc. on the recommendation of a communications provider.
Now in its 45th year, PSX provides security, parking and perimeter surveillance services from its offices in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, as well as from Cleveland, Ohio, and Tampa, Florida. Initially, PSX was charged only with fixing the many networking problems the force was having with its surveillance system.
Once PSX corrected those issues with the previous system, Chief Vogel asked the integrator to provide guidance on getting the police force and ACHA on a path toward high-resolution video that would provide a higher level of security and better evidence for solving any crimes that occurred at the site. The chief knew that funding the project would be difficult, but he also recognized the need for improved security.
“They were really asking him to do a lot with not very much, just based on the federal funding cuts to housing authorities nationwide, which becomes a real problem for budgets,” says Scot MacTaggart, PSX branch manager for Western Pennsylvania.
One of the biggest problems PSX found with the existing analog system was the way the equipment had been obtained and installed.
“They had purchased everything themselves through a distributor and hired a local electrician to install it. They never had a security professional design the system and consider their surveillance goals, lighting conditions at the site and other factors. That design work is necessary to implement an effective system that will provide a high level of security,” says Nick Waskiewicz, account manager for PSX, who designed the new Dumplin Hall system.
After conducting site visits and talking with law enforcement officers and the on-site manager of Dumplin Hall, PSX determined that the site’s entrances, exits, the outdoor patio area and parking lots required higher-quality video coverage. In addition, the integrator recommended adding cameras to elevators to further enhance security. Concerned about pushback from residents who might think they were being spied on, Chief Vogel and the ACHA worked with PSX to provide education to assure residents that the cameras were being installed for their protection only.
PSX recommended that the ACHA implement a Samsung solution that would provide a cost-effective way to administer a number of sites with a mix of analog and high-resolution IP cameras. The integrator added Samsung IP cameras to supplement the site’s existing operational analog cameras. For exterior locations, SNO-6011R cameras were used, while SND-5011 models were used for interior locations. Elevator cabling made camera installation difficult, so PSX used Samsung SCV-2010 analog dome cameras for those locations.
At the command center, PSX rack mounted all DVRs and NVRs in a lockable box that prevented access and potential manipulation of video by staff, maintenance workers and others who might have access to that room. To cap off the installation, 32-inch high-definition monitors were installed to significantly improve viewing of video from the high-resolution cameras. Video can be viewed either on site or from any mobile device.
“The ease of use and the ability to see the cameras on smartphones and tablets via the mobile app when not at the command center or security office is an added benefit to our team,” Waskiewicz said.
PSX also installed a Samsung SRN-1000 and SRN-4000 NVRs, along with the 16-channel SRD-1650DC DVR, to handle the existing analog cameras.
Now, the Samsung Security Manager (SSM) software functions as the core of the solution. The license-free VMS solution enables central management of up to 1,152 cameras and allows monitoring of live or recorded video by authorized users from anywhere on the network. SSM also incorporates a wide variety of viewing configurations, including split screen, each of which can be named and saved for future use. Pop-up icons representing locations of installed cameras can be set for when a related alarm event occurs, allowing users to quickly view images from the nearest camera. For additional intelligence, recorded video from the situation prior to the triggered alarm can be simultaneously retrieved and viewed.
In the past, in order to view video from different locations, Chief Vogel or one of his officers had to remotely locate, access and log in to each camera at each location. This process involved logging in to a DVR then viewing each of the 16 cameras attached to it. This process had to be repeated for each DVR. With SSM, that time-consuming process was eliminated.
“SSM is the face of all these devices that allows them to pull up hundreds of cameras and move from site to site quickly from within the applications. It saves a lot of time doing it this way,” MacTaggart says. “That’s a pretty big deal, especially considering that it jumps across DVR/analog technology and NVR network technology. In the Samsung universe, all recorders report to the SSM software.”
In fact, Waskiewicz says, the idea that SSM would enable the police force to build a proper command center played a major role in Chief Vogel’s decision to move forward with the system design.
“SSM gives us the opportunity to essentially turn a PC into an entry-level command center. This allows us to more freely integrate access control, alarm monitoring and other functions with video surveillance because the software made it so simple and inexpensive to bring video into one central location with a large-format monitor like the chief is using,” Waskiewicz says.
When that first system went online, Chief Vogel was amazed by what he was able to see because of the new Samsung cameras and software.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was crystal clear, with zero pixelation. The quality is second-to-none. I have not seen any other product in the market perform with this type of clarity. We plan to stick with Samsung for our future needs because we are able to identify individuals, and zoom in on license plates – and everything is crystal clear,” he says.
In addition to providing enhanced security, Chief Vogel and his staff also use the cameras for other practical purposes, including tracking employees who sign in to and out of Dumplin Hall, both to see if they arrive on time to work or determine if it is actually that employee who swiped their access card. There are also cameras in the manager’s office to protect the manager and to capture footage in case of potential allegations of misconduct.
The Samsung cameras were also very cost-efficient for an organization like ACHA that receives federal funding. “When I saw the quality of the cameras and the system, I was completely taken back because the cost was much less than the cameras we had used in the past – and those cameras didn’t rise to the level of Samsung,” Chief Vogel says.
Best of all, the Samsung cameras have been effective. Since being installed, they have led to a number of arrests and convictions, including arrests for burglary, vandalism, assault and more – all of which were captured on the cameras.
“The cameras are a major tool to fight crime in our communities,” Chief Vogel says. “They are a deterrent and they provide evidence in the prosecution phase. There are two sides to every story, and then there’s the truth. The truth is what you view with the cameras.”
MacTaggart says the success and operation of the system, and of the ACHA’s overall efforts to improve safety and security across its properties, would not be possible without Chief Vogel’s tireless effort and dedication to the cause.
“Chief Vogel really made this all come together. He did a lot of research on what we recommended, knowing where he wanted to go but also understanding the budget challenges,” MacTaggart says. “This was one of those ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way’ situations, and he’s still finding a way to advance the cause over at the ACHA by bringing all of the video into a central location and upgrading the systems from analog to high-resolution IP.”
Dumplin Hall was the first of two ACHA properties where PSX has already upgraded the existing surveillance systems to Samsung technology. Based on the success of the first system, Chief Vogel’s goal is to convert all of the ACHA’s sites to Samsung as quickly as funding allows.
“Because of budgetary restrictions we can only do one site at a time. We just completed our second building, and as they get approval to proceed, we move on to the next, so this is going to be an ongoing project,” MacTaggart says.
Case study provided by Samsung Techwin