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Wireless Surveillance: A Force Multiplier

A local systems integrator won a bid to expand the Pensacola, Fla., Police Department’s four-camera network of surveillance cameras. To install a new wireless system, line-of-sight issues, 140-mph wind load requirements and other challenges had to be met.

July 15, 2011  |  by Rodney Bosch

The Pensacola PD purchased laptop computers for its squad cars, and is working with a systems integrator to push remote video to vehicles using air cards. Photo: Pensacola PD.

With the camera locations identified, the next objective was to attain the best signal possible to ensure high video quality with no latency.

"Wireless mesh was definitely the way to go for this installation because of distance, direction and topology," Taylor says.

Installation work commenced in August. ACCI identified the city's 250-foot-tall water tower to mount the Fluidmesh antennas and other equipment. It proved an ideal collection point, affording 360° coverage for all signal feeds directly from each camera. However, electing to go with a point-to-point path would present Taylor and his installation crew their largest hurdle - achieving a clean line of site from each camera location to the water tower.

"Every time you do a relay you lose a little bit of the functionality, so we wanted to have a single point-to-point with all these cameras," Taylor says. "We didn't want to have to do any hopping."

Installation Is 'Quite a Show'

Where possible, cameras and the accompanying radio antennas were mounted on buildings. Yet that convenience was not always available. To overcome line-of-sight obstacles presented by the high tree-line common to the Pensacola region, field units and cameras were installed on top of eight 100-foot cement poles.

Pensacola's location on the Florida Panhandle makes it particularly vulnerable to hurricanes. Accordingly, a wind load requirement of 140 mph had to be accomplished.

"Installing the concrete poles was quite a show. They had the police department doing road closures. We had an 18-wheel big rig trailer to transport the pole out to each location, plus a huge crane and auger truck to drill the hole. It was something else," Taylor says.

From there, sector and panel antennas were installed to provide coverage throughout the city. The cameras and wireless units are spread across a 20-mile area with the longest link in the network stretching more than four miles.

"Installing the cameras was easy. Installing the radios was easy. It was just getting those poles up and getting our elevation," Taylor says. "When you are 100 feet up on a tapered pole and four miles away with one of these radios, the water tower looks like the head of a pin."

System Continues to Grow

Video from each of the cameras is fed to police headquarters where it is recorded and stored for 30 days. An operations center is equipped with three 65-inch monitors, as well as smaller units, where officers can control each camera and pull up archived video. A dispatch center is also equipped with a 65-inch monitor for real-time and archived viewing.

Helping to streamline the installation at the head-end, the police department designated a security VLAN for the project from its existing network.

"It was pretty simple. They gave us one switch and they VLAN'd off a few of the ports that we needed - one for the recorder - and then they have client application software on about six different computers on their network," Taylor explains.

Roughly $85,000 in additional funds has been put toward the system expansion since the project commenced, bringing the current camera total to 24. Included are a few portable wireless units, although deployment can be limited given the necessity for a clear line of site to the water tower.

Private funds from local entities are beginning to be made available as well to expand the camera system. After the upgraded network was installed, some local businesses and educational institutions approached the police department to monitor their cameras as well.

It is an agreeable proposition, Lyter says. The private sector foots the bill for the cameras and installation, while their video feeds go on the existing network, sans storage costs. In turn the department obtains additional "eyes on the street," covering key areas of the city.

Some of the cameras are being streamed on the police department's Web site for public viewing. In addition, ACCI is working with the PD's IT department with plans to push remote video to police cars soon through air cards.

"The end result is a vastly improved system that is user-friendly," Lyter says. "We've been able to expand our existing system with no disruptions in service. ACCI and Fluidmesh were the ideal choice for our department."

Rodney Bosch is the managing editor of SECURITY SALES & INTEGRATION, a sister publication of POLICE Magazine.

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