A Monumental Task
Print Issue: July 2012
ONE WOULD BE HARD-PRESSED to find a place more packed with symbols of patriotism and American history than the National Mall and memorial parks area in Washington, D.C. At one end of the Mall lies the U.S. Capitol; at the other is the Lincoln Memorial, with the Washington Monument in between. Along other parts of the park area are the White House, various buildings of the Smithsonian Institution, and newer national treasures, including monuments commemorating World War II veterans, President Franklin Roosevelt, and most recently, civil rights advocate Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK). The Mall is also used for various festivals, holiday celebrations, and every four years, the Presidential inauguration.
TO SAY SUCH AN AREA would be a prime target for terrorists is an understatement. The crowds are also a magnet for common criminals. The Mall demands many different types of security, and the authorities responsible for carrying out that security need a way to monitor all of the systems at once and to facilitate an effective response to any incidents that arise. Enter the PSIM (pronounced p-sim)—short for physical security information management—system.
PSIM systems bring together security applications ranging from access control to video surveillance and sensor alarms, which facilitates monitoring of these various security mechanisms at the same time. PSIM software not only unites data from various platforms and provides it to operators in a uniform way, but it also provides the ability to search into archived events and create advanced situational awareness.
There are many such systems on the market. The United States Park Police (USPP) was asked by the Department of Defense’s Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office’s Technical Support Working Group (TSWG) to test one made by Vid Sys, which is headquartered in Vienna, Virginia.
Prior to implementing the PSIM, cameras were monitored solely by trained police personnel at a central station. There were no alarm triggers or business rules to identify potential security issues. Any triggers were based primarily on the observations of the officers monitoring the cameras, according to Captain David Mulholland, USPP commander of technology services.
A person is still needed to monitor the PSIM and to make judgment calls about how to respond, but the system enhances the staff’s monitoring capabilities. Additionally, Mulholland says the system does not diminish the need for patrols, but it allows for better use of patrols.
The government installed the software in early 2011. Since its installation, the PSIM has been used for several major events, including the 2011 Fourth of July celebration and the MLK Memorial dedication ceremony. The testing and assessment is scheduled to continue at least through the 2013 Presidential inauguration.
The National Mall area posed special challenges to those installing the system, especially the hardware.
Camera placement. One challenge was figuring out where to place the new cameras so that they would be effective but not intrude on the public’s experience of the Mall. “You want to take advantage of the capabilities that the camera has, so you want to place it in a location that has line-of-sight view,” says Mark Collett of Sony, which provided the cameras. He adds that the park police need the ability to zoom in on the President when he is in the area or at specific events.
Three Sony XI cameras were put together in a unit on a nearby rooftop that provides views of the areas to be protected. That achieved the security objective while ensuring that the equipment would be less visible than if the cameras had been placed on light poles.
Infrastructure. Another challenge was to do the installation in a way that respected the historic nature of the location. The companies were very limited as to what they could do with wiring, for example, because that would be intrusive visually and literally. Instead, they used mostly wireless technology which obviated the need to run cable and is virtually invisible, says James Chong, VidSys chief technology officer and founder. Chong adds that they used high-bandwidth point-to-point mesh technology to accommodate the need to send massive amounts of data over short distances.
But there were limits to how much they could do even in terms of wireless capability. “Obviously in the national park part of D.C., you’re not going to build cell towers. And you’re bounded on one side by a river and on the other side of the river is the cemetery,” explains Mulholland. “So you don’t really have any cell towers over there.”
In addition to the limited cell tower access, Mulholland points out that when crowds of hundreds of thousands of people are in the area, the cell capacity is strained. “The hardline network infrastructure is in place, but it doesn’t always necessarily go to the place where you need it to go.”
Various approaches were taken for relaying data at the different events. For example, for the Fourth of July, the USPP partnered with Alcatel Lucent, which provided a “solution for us using both the D Block spectrum and the spectrum that the District of Columbia currently continues to hold on an experimental license,” says Mulholland. “So we just set up one local node with receivers at the various ends and used that as a dedicated transmission mechanism to get it.” And for the MLK dedication, the USPP set up a temporary point-to-point wireless connection.
Chong says one lesson learned from this experience was the need to begin by getting people in a room together to agree on plans. “We learned that you’ve got to get the stakeholders together on day one. Just get everybody at the table,” he says.
The PSIM system uses open-architecture software, which allows it to work with cameras and other hardware and software from any vendor, says Chong. In this installation, the system gathers data from cameras and other devices, such as analytics sensors. Mulholland notes that though this type of system is open architecture, it requires significant configuration, so it is key that the solution provider understand not only the existing architecture and all of the equipment being used but also the business processes of the end user. “This requires a lot of conversation and interaction to develop a final working product that meets mission needs,” says Mulholland.
Cameras. While the USPP already had an existing network of cameras that would be hooked into the PSIM, the TSWG wanted to evaluate some new cameras along with the PSIM, so that’s why the USPP installed the new cameras as part of the project.
“There was no specific need for us to obtain additional cameras or replace existing cameras. However, we have seen significant additional capability with the system that will have impact on how we design and deploy camera systems in the future,” says Mulholland.
The new cameras used in this installation were, as mentioned, Sony XI. The cameras have wide-area monitoring capabilities and can cover 270 degrees. They also have both HD and thermal functionality. According to Collett, the cameras, which were developed for the military, have the ability to ignore or make adjustments for certain elements of nature, like fog, snow, and wind, which helps when trying to mitigate false alarms.
The algorithms in the Sony system are integrated into the PSIMVidSys platform, which is the software intelligence engine. Operators use the VidSys software to write the rules that determine what will cause the camera to alarm or begin recording, whether it will be an event or a specific time of day. And then the software “gives the users the ability to interact with all of the other systems,” says Chong. The data that the PSIM collects can also be viewed from remote computers and on mobile devices, which helps because it can be used by personnel out in the field and not just those in a central command station.
One of the best parts of the PSIM is that it allows the commanders to build in business rules, says Mulholland. So not only is it monitoring hundreds of cameras, but it is weeding out the irrelevant information based on the settings put in by the officials. The system is doing the thinking and the processing for you, says Mulholland.
There are several alerts available in the system. One alert that can be set is very useful in a wide-open venue like the National Mall; it establishes zones that people and vehicles should not cross into. If someone crosses the lines into those areas, the system sends a notification. This sort of alert came in handy at the MLK dedication because the President and vice president were attending, and, thus, there were many restricted areas.
Mulholland describes other types of alerts. For example, when someone falls and is down on the ground for a certain amount of time (depending on the rule entered), the system lets the control centers know that this type of event has occurred; personnel can then assess whether the person is injured or needs attention.
It is also important to tailor the alerts specifically to the event. For example, though “object left behind” is often an important alert to have, on the Fourth of July, plenty of people will be leaving objects behind as they picnic and drop their stuff off to engage in other activities. So that rule might not be applied on the Fourth of July.
Other rules would be used that day that wouldn’t be used at other times, such as mass crowd movement. “If there are 50,000 people sitting on the west slope of the Washington Monument within our camera view, if a whole bunch of them all start to move at once, we want to know that…. If that crowd or a portion of that crowd begins to move simultaneously, that’s an indicator that maybe something just happened. Why are they all moving?” says Mulholland. He says it could be an indication of illness or even an explosive.
Additionally, another business rule that’s been programmed into the PSIM is to detect when there is a large puff of smoke.
Mulholland says that one of the challenges in the law enforcement and homeland security technology environment is that technology that is complex enough to make up for deficiencies in “legacy issues” is often complex to use. “The very end use of the PSIM can be fairly user friendly, but the development of business rules, the integration of cameras, sensors, and other factors, and the integration into the network can require specific technical expertise. We have been privileged to have great support from the PSIM team in the deployment of the system currently in use,” says Mulholland.
Sensors. Other devices that can be connected into the PSIM include various sensors. The Mall’s PSIM is currently monitoring video-analytics sensors on the cameras, but there are other types of sensors that can be integrated. According to Chong, this “would also include things like the chemical, biological, radiation, and nuclear (CBRN) sensors.” He adds, “You’ve also got some motion sensors, difference detection sensors,” and other capabilities. Mulholland says the test project is just starting to integrate other sensors in with the PSIM.
Situational awareness. An integral piece of the PSIM is that it uses all of the data feeding into it from the various devices to provide the big picture when something occurs. Mulholland says that before they had the system, if an incident sent up an alert from one camera, operators could pull up that camera, but if they wanted a wider view from other cameras, they would have to figure out which other cameras to turn to. However, the PSIM automatically pulls up the other camera views. “[T]he system is already mapped to say what other cameras are relevant to that view.... So you get the view within the context of other angles and other surrounding areas,” he explains.
And the system can also tell operators if any of the sensors in that area have been tripped. That will provide full situational awareness of the area.
Mulholland has been happy with the results of the trials so far. The events it has been used in were extremely successful in that there were no major incidents that could be used to test the system. However, “What it did do is provide my incident commanders with a fantastic situational awareness picture,” he says. “So when they wanted to know, ‘Hey, what’s it like in this sector over here, or how much of a crowd do we have here, do we still have people coming in here? We need to secure the route because the president’s coming in….’ Those occasions where they needed to kind of just have that overall view, those cameras’ views were sitting right there.”
Mulholland would like to expand the use of the system. Specifically, he’d like to add one capability that PSIM offers called “blue-force tracking.” That’s the ability to track down where the other law enforcement personnel are in the area that’s being covered. It does that through an officer’s smartphone GPS system.
Though it’s not being used yet, Mulholland says that it has a great value for situational awareness and the ability to respond to incidents. However, he adds that there are limitations to blue-force tracking. For example, there are privacy concerns in tracking various law enforcement officers. Additionally, potential tracking of government-issued cell phones that personnel must carry 24 hours a day brings forth an ethical issue about keeping tabs on where workers are during off-duty hours. Mulholland says one solution would be to integrate the GPS into police radios or cars, which are not used when off-duty so that the officer can only be tracked when conducting government business.
As mentioned, last year’s test events went so smoothly that there almost weren’t even benchmarks to use as ways to show that the system was working, says Mulholland. However, he said the earliest major event, Memorial Day, was helpful in getting operators used to the various camera views. And the Fourth of July was a good time to come up with business rules for what sorts of alerts would be helpful. And though there was nothing nefarious and no major incidents, the PSIM system provided incident commanders with great situational awareness. Says Mulholland: “What we are hoping is that we will continue to have success and can convince all parties involved that it makes sense to keep this demonstration in place through the inauguration because that would be the granddaddy of events to really test the capabilities.”