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Security Goes Underground

​MORE THAN ONE MILLION people visit the upscale Millennium Mall in Caracas, Venezuela, each month, drawn to its 215 retail stores, plus the numerous restaurants and movie theaters. However, the hustle and bustle of the retail space wasn’t the main concern for the mall’s security team. The real challenge for them was underground, in the facility’s six-level parking garage, which serves not only the mall visitors but also those who work in and visit the tenant businesses in the 12-story office building that is part of the facility.

The mall needed a video surveillance application to protect parking lot cashiers as well as the administration office where visitors and employees prepay for their parking passes. Security also wanted a system that would allow two-way communication with parking attendants and customers in case of emergency. The system needed to be cost effective and scalable. Hoping to find a single solution to meet its security needs, the mall security team turned to VenSites, a third-party integrator, also located in Caracas. Joaquin Cabada, a director with VenSites, began working with the mall security team to choose a surveillance system.

Cabada recommended that the mall invest in IP infrastructure because it offered lower start-up costs, lower monthly costs, increased productivity, more efficient use of bandwidth, and lower maintenance costs over traditional surveillance systems. Also, IP would allow the mall to easily expand the surveillance system and add new features if desired.

After considering several suppliers, Cabada and the team chose a system by Grandstream, headquartered in Boston. The Grandstream product had the main components the team was looking for, including VoIP integration, two-way communications, and high camera resolution. Also, Cabada found that the Grandstream IP endpoints were easy to install and manage, allowing the mall to unify all its voice, data, and video applications on a single network infrastructure.

The Grandstream system includes IP servers, surveillance cameras, IP multimedia telephones, and video management and monitoring software. An additional factor that helped sell the system to senior managers was that the system could provide executives with free videoconferencing capabilities. The IP multimedia telephones that are used as part of the security system can also be used for nonsecurity purposes.

The mall, owned by partners in Venezuela and the United States, purchased extra phones that its owners and executives could use for business videoconferencing. Since the infrastructure was provided as part of the security system, the only cost was that of the phones. The partners can now conduct on-camera meetings through videoconferencing as an alternative to travel. The lack of licenses and monthly service charges made the phones an attractive bonus to senior managers.

The mall installed 80 surveillance cameras as part of the system. While most of these are dome cameras, 13 are pan-tilt-zoom cameras, and the rest are fixed position.

The IP cameras were placed inside and outside all the cashier booths in the parking lot. The IP multimedia phones were installed inside the cashier booths and connected to the cameras. The cashiers can press a panic button on the video phone that will trigger the associated IP camera. Once that alarm is triggered, the video phone and camera stream a real-time video feed to the security monitoring center. Alternatively, a security officer or employee could immediately use the IP multimedia phone to place a call to the IP camera, triggering it to start sending a live video stream to the security monitoring center.

The surveillance system is monitored using Grandstream’s GSurf video management software. Security officers monitor the video feeds around the clock from a central security monitoring station located at the mall. All video feeds are recorded, but the length of time the video is kept depends on the location of the camera. Feeds are kept for a minimum of one week and a maximum of about four weeks.

The first part of the system went online when the mall opened in November 2008. However, the mall has expanded the system several times since then. In 2011, 26 dome cameras were added to improve coverage of one part of the parking garage. More expansion is planned for 2012. For example, security plans to add IP video cameras and IP multimedia phones in high-security areas throughout the mall, such as executive offices and areas where the mall’s finances are handled.

The system has helped security respond to a number of minor incidents since it was installed. In many instances, response time was improved because security could see an incident taking place and dispatch the nearest guard to address the problem. In addition, security has shared with law enforcement some of the system’s high-quality images of thieves, which helped lead to their capture.

An unexpected benefit has been that the cameras can help security mitigate disputes among customers. In several cases, for example, customers have accused each other of causing vehicle damage. In one case, a customer claimed that the owner of another car caused fender damage due to careless parking. However, by using the numerous high-resolution video images of the customer entering the parking garage, security was able to prove that the damage was already on the car when it entered the lot.