Wireless Surveillance: A Force Multiplier

The Pensacola (Fla.) Police Department's point-to-point wireless network replaced a limited wireless public video surveillance system. The system surmounted topography hurdles to ensure a clear line of sight for multiple cameras back to a single collection point.

When the police department in Pensacola, Fla., sought to expand its limited wireless public video surveillance system, an open bid solicitation went out to identify integrators that could meet the city's rigid expectations.

More than quadrupling the existing four-camera system would present installation challenges the city had not experienced previously. In order to achieve the extensive coverage the city desired, substantial measures would need to be taken. Namely, surmounting topography hurdles to ensure a clear line of sight for multiple cameras back to a single collection point.

Learn how the city's needs were achieved in the form of a point-to-point wireless network, as well as what put the winning integrator's proposal over the top.

Detailed Project Bid Wins the Job

The city of Pensacola purchased its first public video surveillance system in 2007. Pleased with the performance of the four-camera, Motorola Canopy wireless network, it wasn't long before law enforcement advocated for a significant expansion.

The city received funding from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program, which is the primary provider of federal criminal justice funding to state and local jurisdictions. Armed with a $203,000 grant, the city opened a bid solicitation process seeking integrators that could take the video surveillance system to new heights (pun intended, as will soon be revealed).

"More than 25 people showed up for the prebid meeting and we had seven that actually submitted bids," says Lt. Tommi Lyter of the Pensacola Police Department.

An independent panel was assembled to review and score each of the bid proposals based on content, previous experience, cost and other factors. In the end, one integrator in particular outshined the competition - locally based Advanced Control Concepts Inc. (ACCI).

Lauded for attention to detail in explaining what components would be used and how the installation would proceed, the ACCI proposal "knocked it out of the park," Lyter says.

In the end, it wasn't the lowest bid on the table that persuaded city officials.

"The good news for us it was not one of those solicitations necessarily based on low cost," says ACCI Sales Engineer and Project Manager Doug Taylor. "We were not the low bidder. We were like No. 3, but they felt like our proposal offered them the best value for the city. It was up to us to do a little front-end engineering and explain how the job was going to be accomplished."

Point-to-Point or Bust

Established in 1985 and a member of the PSA Security Network, ACCI is a full-service provider of electronic security solutions to the commercial, institutional, military and government markets. The company has provided wireless solutions for about seven years, which proved beneficial in helping it win the project to expand the Pensacola PD video surveillance system.

Replacing the Motorola system, ACCI selected a point-to-point wireless solution by Fluidmesh, including units from the 2200, 1100 and MITO Series, which are designed specifically for backhaul applications. The grant money allowed the city to initially purchase an additional 13 cameras to add to its existing four Sony 550 pan/tilt/zoom (p/t/z) models. The new additions are all Axis Q6032 p/t/z models using a single Cat-5 cable for power over Ethernet (PoE). At the front end of the system, ACCI elected to go with Lenel's SkyPoint NVR and video management system (VMS), which utilizes OnSSI's Ocularis technology.

The police department conducted a crime survey to determine how it could maximize the coverage area with the additional cameras. On a large city map, the police plotted locations of recent types of crimes. The areas with the most dense crime clusters would receive a camera. Other sites, such as a city park or other public area where festivals and outdoor entertainment are held, also were allotted coverage.[PAGEBREAK]

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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