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Seeking Faster Footage

At McCormick place in Chicago, movement is a priority. The largest convention center in North America moves more than 3 million visitors a year through its 2.6 million square feet of exhibit space in four buildings. Along with those people come equipment and vehicles to support dozens of trade shows and meetings that traverse the center’s halls each year.

Ensuring that all this movement occurs safely is security’s job. Security at the convention center is responsible for the public areas of the center, while show management contracts for security on the show floor. To protect these public areas, McCormick has access control readers at eight key points, which are monitored by cameras. The center is converting all of its 600 cameras to IP models—currently 450 are IP and 150 are analog. The cameras feed into a control center located on site and are projected onto a video wall. (Axis provided the cameras and Milestone provided the video management system.)

To keep people and equipment moving, a primary part of security’s mission is to review all of this sur­­veillance video to investigate incidents. The main issues concern damage, according to Frank Solano, security systems engineer at SMG, a management company that oversees convention centers around the country. “There is some theft, but that’s rare, and a few injuries. But, in any case, you want the best information you can get,” says Solano.

Solano, who works full-time at McCormick Place on behalf of SMG, ensures high-quality information by dedicating an entire unit of mostly off-duty police officers to forensics and investigations. For each incident being investigated, it “takes hours and hours to go through days of footage,” says Solano, because most incidents investigated by the unit happened in the past and were sometimes reported days after the actual event.

Solano wanted to upgrade the convention center’s video software to make searching for incidents faster and easier, but he wasn’t immediately sold on using analytics to achieve this end. He had worked with analytics before and had “not had a great experience” with the software actually doing what manufacturers claimed. However, after a talk with integrator Johnson Controls, Solano agreed to watch demonstrations of new analytics technology.

After reviewing several products, Solano chose the Video Synopsis software by BriefCam, headquartered in Modi’in, Israel. The software compresses hours of video to display all the events on one screen. With the camera footage compressed into one video stream, each individual mover—car, person, animal—is identified and time-stamped so that the user can see when that mover is present in the time stream. By clicking on any one mover, the user can stop the simultaneous video and view just that mover in its own time stream. The user can also isolate certain types of movers—such as vehicles of a certain size. Solano was most impressed by one feature: “With the software, the staff is efficient because it doesn’t take as long to go through video footage,” he says.

The software was installed in early 2013 and had only been in place for a few months when it helped solve a mystery. McCormick Place had installed siding along an underpass. Shortly after the installation, maintenance crews reported that the siding had incurred $8,000 in damage. No one knew exactly when the damage occurred, only that it had happened within a two-day time frame. However, the damage was clearly caused by a semi truck because no other vehicle was large enough to do it. Using the BriefCam software, security viewed footage from the camera that overlooked the damaged siding and isolated images of semi trucks. The system brought back one hit—the image of the truck hitting the siding. Solano was able to contact the company that owned the truck for compensation. “My boss was very happy with the result,” says Solano.

In late 2013, Solano agreed to test a pilot version of BriefCam’s upgraded software, Syndex. The upgrade allows users to tag individual movers by time, speed, and color. According to Solano, the new software allows for more fil­tering. For example, he notes that if security gets a report of a perpetrator wearing a red jacket, it can tell the software to show only people wearing red. Similarly, the software can further limit the footage to those going only in a certain direction.

Solano says that the installation of the initial software as well as the upgrade went smoothly. He notes that McCormick Place already had the infrastructure in place to allow the data to move quickly. The convention center has three networks: an administrative network for internal traffic, a network that hosts Internet access for trade show participants, and a network dedicated entirely to security. “The network is a big piece of the puzzle,” says Solano. “We are lucky that we could design and deploy a network of this size.”

Because of the available network space, Solano is able to offer the BriefCam software as a way to add value for exhibitors. Security allows exhibitors to rent cameras during trade shows and use the BriefCam software to analyze traffic at their booths.

Solano also plans to use the software to protect the new buildings being erected as part of an ongoing expansion project. By 2017, McCormick Place will have a 10,000-person arena and a new hotel. The designs for the buildings were approved with the security components, including BriefCam, built into the design. “No matter what our plans for new buildings in the future, we want to be ‘future-enabled,’” says Solano. “We have created the security backbone and can add on when needed.”