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Security's Way of Wisdom

THE MOTTO OF CHICAGO’S DePaul University is “I will show you the way of wisdom.” It also showed the way to increased security when it decided to greatly expand video monitoring of its student residence halls and apartments in 2008.

The university’s Public Safety Department chose the combination of user-friendly software, standalone servers, and IP cameras. The new system had the ability to incorporate the legacy equipment, and it allows for future large-scale expansion, which the university has plans for in the next few years.

DePaul was founded in 1898 and has grown to include six campuses in the Chicago area. It has more than 23,000 undergraduate, graduate, and law students, and is home to about 2,700 residents at its Lincoln Park campus, which has been ranked as one of the most beautiful urban campuses in the nation. Students live in a combination of traditional residence halls, an historic courtyard apartment building, and myriad converted historic townhouses, which are spread over 40 acres of urban area and interwoven with other residential and commercial communities.

Until last autumn, the university had surveillance cameras trained on only the entrance lobbies of the traditional style dormitories. There were about 25 analog cameras, which fed to digital video recorders (DVRs) located at the dorm’s front desks or locked inside on-site data closets.

To address problems that the university had with vandalism, false alarm pulls, and even some small incidents of arson, Director of Public Safety Bob Wachowski wanted to expand camera coverage to “the common areas, the hallways, and the exterior and entrances of the dorms.” This would enable security “to see who was coming and going,” he says. He also wanted to do the same at all of the other campus housing units.

After Wachowski researched current technological options, consulted the university’s IT team, and secured funding, he sent out a request for proposal (RFP) detailing what he sought in bids for the project. The university wanted a standalone IP-camera system that was server-based and would use the university’s intranet, with the ability to store a minimum of 30 days of digital recordings.

The system would have to be able to accept the migration of the existing analog cameras to leverage the network infrastructure already in place. It also had to be able to handle future expansions to cover the student residences at Depaul’s Chicago Loop campus, and its management and retrieval software had to be user-friendly.

Wachowski knew that the nontraditional types of residences at the Lincoln Park campus would cause installation complexities. Expanding the system would be a costly and time-consuming task, in part, because coaxial cable would have to be laid through the buildings’ diverse architectures.

Contractors would also have to factor in the varied building materials and the need to avoid damaging the historic structures. “We had to have walk-throughs of all the halls and other residences with each prospective bidder,” Wachowski states. “They’re all unique,” he notes. “For example, one has these long, winding hallways. It would be unfair to the bidder if that wasn’t seen.”

DePaul eventually selected integrator Pace Systems, Inc., of Naperville, Illinois, to begin the installation in May 2008. While students were home for the summer, Pace installed 225 Axis Communications cameras, some of which were pan-tilt-zoom.

In addition to the cameras, Pace installed a video management system from Milestone Systems and five centralized servers that replaced the need for individual DVRs at each residence building. The system’s servers are kept in a locked data closet at the campus’s security dispatch center.

The work continued through the end of August. As predicted, says Wachowski, progress was slowed by the need to drill through tough concrete walls and delicate old brick, as well as by having to solve camera placement and mounting issues on the townhouses.

After the installation came the tweaking. The cameras are motion triggered and use video analytics. The system allows operators to use the software to draw zones to designate where movement should be detected. These parameters were tested to make sure the desired results were obtained.

DePaul was able to take advantage of Power over Ethernet, which provides electricity to the network cameras via the same cable used for the network connection instead of via power outlets. Doing so reduced costs further and helped to simplify implementation.

The Milestone software they use is Windows-based and can be remotely viewed from any PC. It also gives users the option of viewing feeds over wireless handheld devices such as BlackBerries, which Wachowski hopes to take advantage of in the future. Wachowski, his assistant director, and the director and assistant director of campus housing are the only individuals who can log on to view the stored digital footage.

The management system allows data to be searched by time, date, and location. It also allows for clips to be burned to disk and e-mailed to anyone with any media player. The interface was so simple that staff with access rights figured out how to use it before Milestone trained them, Wachowski states.

As a way of accommodating privacy concerns, the university decided that cameras would not be monitored live. Students were sent letters explaining what the new camera system was meant for, what it did and did not do, and who had access to the footage. Signage was also put up at monitored locations advertising the presence of the cameras. Wachowski says that he has received no complaints from students but has heard from many who think it is a good idea.

Since the cameras began recording last September, says Wachowski, the recorded footage has helped security personnel solve a number of crime and vandalism incidents.

In the near future, DePaul plans to replace the remaining analog cameras on campus with digital IP based cameras and install the system on the Loop campus residences. The university may also soon implement wireless systems so that campus patrol cars, for example, can immediately access footage related to incidents. The systems have performed well, and the university is looking to expand it to other nonresidential areas of the campus, such as academic buildings.

(For more information: Pace Systems, Inc., e-mail:[email protected],; Milestone Systems, Inc., e-mail:[email protected] com,; Axis Communications, Inc.,