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Atlanta: Partners In Protection

Established at the intersection of two railroad lines in the early 1800s, Atlanta has grown to become the jewel of the New South—attracting businesses to take advantage of the city’s bright future and drawing tourists to explore its history. 6 The city has rapidly grown since its founding in 1837, and 2014 is just another year on its growth chart with the opening of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, the Atlanta Streetcar, and the College Football Hall of Fame–all scheduled for ribbon-cutting ceremonies this year. 6 Along with those achievements, the city is also hosting the ASIS International 60th Annual Seminar and Exhibits this month. Security Management takes a look at some of the security efforts, both public and private, that help keep the city safe.


Delta Air Lines began in 1924 as Huff Daland Dusters, Incorporated, a crop dusting firm dedicated to eradicating the boll weevil. In 1928, one of the original directors purchased the company and renamed it Delta Air Service. The first passenger flights in late 1929 could carry only five customers. Now, the airline’s Boeing 747-400 alone seats about 375 passengers, and the company serves almost 165 million people a year, flies to 322 destinations in 59 countries, and has more than 700 aircraft in its fleet.

Essential to making sure that those flights get to their destinations without incident is the Delta Operations Control Center (OCC), situated just outside of Atlanta near the airport at Delta headquarters. It’s home to Delta’s load control team, the navigation team, domestic and international flight controls, meteorologists, aircraft routers, crew trackers, sector managers, maintenance control staff, demand-planning personnel, and the IT team for the OCC.

The OCC was designed after the Storm of the Century in 1993 when the Eastern Seaboard was paralyzed for almost six days. During that time, Delta had airplanes and crews displaced, and the response did not flow well, says Damon Cox, supervisor for domestic operations and flight control for Delta.

“That was a learning experience back then to say, ‘Hey, we can’t allow this to happen again,’” he says, explaining that not all of the groups within the OCC were colocated. “So we had it all centralized so we could come down to a game plan that all the work groups within this office can share a common focus to make sure that the operation runs like it should.”

The OCC was completed in 1996 and was the first centralized operations control center for an airline. Since then, all other airlines have followed suit. Delta remodeled the OCC in 2008 to modernize it and add room for representatives from Northwest Airlines, which Delta had purchased.

One salient feature of the OCC is the incident briefing room, which is designed for emergency meetings of the Delta team. The large conference room features video screens, phone connections to anywhere Delta does business, and fully-functioning workstations with pop-up screen monitors at each chair. If an incident occurs, a representative from each of the divisions in the OCC, plus the corporate leaders, meet in the room to coordinate the emergency response.

Delta also uses the room to hold daily briefings in the morning and afternoon along with weather updates, which address any problems flights had from the day before, any crews that are currently displaced, and any significant events the OCC should be aware of going into the day.

While most of the focus in the OCC is on keeping flights safe and on time, measures must be taken at the facility itself to make sure it’s secure should anything happen at the headquarters location. This is mainly accomplished through a mirror facility of the OCC located two miles from the main site. “If this place catches on fire, if there’s a bomb, if an airplane hits the building, we can pack everyone out,” Cox says. “Everything’s set up, ready to go. When the phone’s ringing here right now, it’s ringing down there in another building just like this one that no one is sitting in.”

The mirror facility is set up exactly like the OCC, complete with active work stations. If the alarm sounds, the main site can evacuate in 15 minutes and buses will take the staff to the new location where they can begin working immediately. Delta occasionally drills for this scenario, but not often as there are many logistical factors and problems with halting a 24-hour operation, Cox says.

“You don’t want to [stop it] too often because you don’t want to leave aircraft in limbo when you do,” he explains. “It’s a good thing to have the operation backed up, but you don’t want to be doing this just for the sake of doing the drill. You want to do it enough to keep everybody familiar with it, but not enough to put the operation at risk.”


Launched in April 2007, the Video Integration Center (VIC) plays a vital role in bringing together the camera systems of the Atlanta Police Department (APD), the city of Atlanta, and private businesses that agree to integrate their systems. The VIC was launched by the Atlanta Police Foundation and the APD in partnership with the Atlanta Security Council, Central Atlanta Progress, Atlanta Downtown Improvement District, and Midtown Alliance. Through the VIC, APD officers monitor video feeds of approximately 2,700 cameras stationed throughout the city.

The system “allows the private sector, like the Georgia Aquarium, CNN Center, and other private businesses, to integrate their cameras into our system so we monitor them on a daily basis,” says Stephanie Brown, an APD officer who monitors the VIC feeds. Atlanta is divided into six zones, which are all part of the VIC system along with cameras from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and MARTA—Atlanta’s transit authority.

When it began, the VIC had only 17 cameras, but over the past several years it has rapidly expanded to include thousands of cameras located throughout the Atlanta metro area. A majority of these cameras come from the private sector, Brown says. “We got out in the community, and informed them what it is that we’re doing so they can understand that [the VIC] is not going to use interior cameras—just the exterior cameras of their businesses,” she explains.

If businesses don’t already have their own cameras set up on the exterior of their property, the VIC will offer them a leasing agreement where the city will install the cameras. Businesses pay a monthly fee to handle maintenance and occasional upgrades to the cameras, which are integrated into the VIC. 

APD officers monitor the cameras daily to watch for suspicious activity. However, they also use the cameras to assist in situations where someone has called 911 and is requesting police response. Using a computer system, officers in the VIC are able to see where a 911 call is originating in the city.

By clicking on a call, officers can pull up feeds on the four cameras closest to the incident, Brown explains. Officers can then view footage from up to 30 minutes before the incident to try to see what happened. “That aids us just in case a situation is in hot pursuit,” or in other types of scenarios where someone might be attempting to flee the authorities, she adds.

There are some limitations to the system, though. If cameras are owned by private businesses—not operated by the city or part of a leasing agreement—VIC officers can only watch what’s happening through the camera by monitoring them live.

To help make sure officers are paying attention to areas vulnerable to crime, the VIC uses a predictive policing system. “Within the city of Atlanta is a program where there are different coordinates and boxes [that overlay the city] where crime has happened previously,” Brown explains. “So what we attempt to do is keep officers patrolling those specific areas frequently because, based on the crime stats that have occurred in the past, these are the areas that have the potential for crime to occur in the future.”

These patrol areas can be as large as two or three city blocks, which is where the VIC comes in. While an officer is out patrolling the area, an officer at the VIC can be “video patrolling” the location by looking at the different camera feeds that are streaming from the location. If an officer sees something suspicious, they can alert an officer who’s already in the area and can investigate.

“We can automatically go over radio and advise our officer, ‘Hey, can you start someone to this location—this is what’s going on,’” Brown says. “That way, we have a heads-up because sometimes it takes a while for 911 to get the call and then dispatch an officer. Whereas, if we already see it, we have the ability to handle the crime before it progresses.”

The VIC also helps with the security of the city when Atlanta is prepping for a large event. “When we have large events within the city, we’ll open the Joint Operation Center, which has different departments located in Atlanta, and make sure all the cameras in the area are focused just in case anything happens,” Brown explains. “It’s just being prepared to make sure nothing happens.” 

In addition to faster response times, the VIC officers see the camera system as a passive deterrent. “As the cameras have been added, people have been more aware of their location,” says Joseph Mercado, an officer at the VIC. “They see the little blue camera light and they kind of think twice. As more go up, we’ve got a greater coverage area and I think a lot of criminals are thinking whether they actually want to do something in that area.”

Along with private businesses, some apartment complexes and shopping centers have also decided to take part in the system, and officers at the VIC expect it to continue to grow as funding for the initiative increases. The next goal for the system: increase the number of cameras in the downtown area.


One of the major systems that joined the VIC recently is MARTA, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, which provides bus and rail service throughout the Atlanta metro area. It has approximately 38 stations, comes into contact with more than 30 different law enforcement agencies, runs through two counties, and moves people around seven different cities.

MARTA integrated into the VIC system and contributed 1,200 cameras that are located in its various stations throughout the city. Unlike other entities in the system, MARTA has a special arrangement allowing its personnel to view other feeds that come into the VIC. It made the move to join the VIC after the Boston Marathon bombing, as it became evident that having a citywide camera surveillance system was beneficial if a crisis occurred.

In addition to the cameras that are located in stations, over the last year MARTA has installed cameras in its bus fleet as part of the Vehicle Security Camera System Project. The project began in 2012 after MARTA researched other metro systems, like SEPTA in Philadelphia and LYNX in Orlando, both of which had cameras in their vehicles. After doing some assessment on its own as to what would work in the Atlanta area and obtaining $9 million in grants from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to help support the project, MARTA moved forward and put a bid out to place cameras in all of its buses.

Apollo took the bid, and in 2013 Atlanta began installing the cameras. The city currently has cameras on all of its 500 buses and mobility vehicles, according to Monty Montgomery, the emergency preparedness unit coordinator for MARTA.

Each bus is equipped with approximately 11 cameras, depending on the size of the vehicle, that show both the interior and exterior of the vehicle. The cameras are analog, but run through a device that converts the images to a digital image that’s stored locally on a DVR in the vehicle. To get the footage off the bus, MARTA also added to its infrastructure to create uploading stations in its bus garages.

“When those buses pull within a certain distance of those bus garages, the video starts to upload,” Montgomery says. The system is also designed with an accelerometer or a geospatial device on it, which tags video based on parameters that MARTA has established, so if an operator is driving too fast, video is flagged for review.

“If you’re driving too fast and you hit a bump full speed…that could damage our patrons and so we…set the accelerometer to trigger on that,” Montgomery explains. “That gives us a training opportunity for our operators so that they can maneuver more safely throughout the city and provide better customer service for our patrons.”

In addition to tagging operator incidents, the system can also flag if a crime or suspicious activity occurs on the bus during the day. When that incident is flagged, the footage is automatically uploaded and, depending on the severity of the situation, can also send an immediate notification to MARTA’s Communications Center. This allows MARTA’s police force to view the system live from a PC, or even an iPad, to see what’s going on and, if necessary, dispatch officers to the scene.

Wary that it would be used to monitor them, many of the bus operators opposed installing the cameras. However, opinions have changed as the number of operator assaults on buses has dropped since the cameras were installed.

Additionally, MARTA detectives have been using the camera system to help identify and arrest suspects for crimes that happen while in the MARTA system. “The images are very clear, high-quality images, and so if [police] see somebody who was on a train but they know they got off and got on bus route 83, they can go to that bus and pull up the video” to find that person, Montgomery explains. “So they’ve seen tremendous value in terms of the turnaround of affecting arrests for incidents that do occur in the system.”

One effect of having the cameras in place has been a drop in the number of false claims that MARTA has received for injuries and operator error. The legal department “has seen a dramatic drop” as the exterior cameras on the buses are designed to show if the bus hits anything while in motion. “Sometimes you have curb side allegations of [the operator] riding the curb and running over someone’s foot, but the camera didn’t show that and so the claim goes away,” Montgomery explains.

With the success of the bus and mobility vehicle installation, MARTA is currently working on the next phase of the project: putting cameras on all of its trains. During the summer, it worked on a prototype of a system that was installed in one train car in the MARTA system. The goal was to have the prototype installed and completed in June, then it would run throughout July and the beginning of August.

“We’ll run it for about 30 days out in the system and try to see if it’s running right,” Montgomery explains. “If we’re not getting the uploads, if we’re having problems with the hardware, we’re getting too much vibration on a certain camera, or the video is not recording as it should be…in that window, we will tweak the system and nail down the design before we go into full-scale implementation.”


One of the newest and most popular attractions in downtown Atlanta is the Georgia Aquarium. Opened in November 2005, the aquarium features more animals than any other aquarium in the world and holds more than 10 million gallons of water. Its inventory of whale sharks, beluga whales, and other sea creatures is priceless.

While visitors are focused on the animals in the 60 various tanks throughout the aquarium, more than 400 employees and 2,000 volunteers work behind the scenes to make the space friendly, safe, and secure for the millions of tourists, school groups, dignitaries, and locals that visit each year. At the helm of the security operation is Alan Davis, director of safety and security for the aquarium, and the former police chief at the Georgia Dome Center in Centennial Park.

“From the security side of this, I’ve got more alarms and electronics in this building than I had in all those other places combined,” Davis explains. However, the aquarium doesn’t always use its security features in the traditional sense.

The aquarium’s largest tank holds the whale sharks. The tank is 297 feet long, 30 feet deep, and holds 5.8 million gallons of water, with another million in filtration. Eighteen security cameras are stationed to view the top of the tank where a cement pad allows employees to walk the perimeter. Along with the cameras, the aquarium uses analytics to sound an alert if one of the whale sharks breaches the top of the tank. “Not necessarily from a security standpoint, but I have fish that could breach the tank and the alarm system goes off, and then we’ve got a process to get that animal back into the water,” according to Davis.

Over the last nine years, no animal has breached the tank. But it’s still a concern, says Davis. “You have to worry about the animals, and so if something happens, we’ve got the system; using one technology for a different purpose,” he adds.

Along with the cameras and analytics monitoring the access points to tanks, the aquarium also has strict access control policies for visitors and staff members. “Inside the facility, I have employees that, unless they were on a guided tour, do not come up here [to access the tanks],” Davis explains. “Some employees, other than during their orientation, probably never have been up here because they don’t have a work-related task up here.”

HID proximity cards allow only certain employees into certain areas of the aquarium. Access is also protected through traditional lock-and-key systems for the doors that protect certain areas, such as the access points to tanks.

When it comes to visitor access, the aquarium controls the number of people who are inside the facility at any given time. Fire code allows the aquarium to have 8,850 people inside, but Davis says the staff limits the actual number to 4,500 people at a time by using a scanning system to count the number of ticketed individuals who go through the doors. This helps put the security staff at ease with the knowledge that they are never close to maximum capacity, and also makes for a better visitor experience as people are able to move around and easily view the animals inside the tanks.

In addition to scanning visitors’ tickets, the aquarium does a wand and bag inspection of everyone who enters the building. The major concern for the security staff is firearms. “We’re in the South, people carry guns,” Davis explains. “My issue…I can tell you how much of an explosive it takes to blow the big window of the tank, but nobody can tell me what a 9-millimeter or a 40- caliber bullet in an accidental discharge from someone who drops their gun out of their pocket will do to that window.”

This is a major concern for the aquarium, as the largest tank has more than 1 million pounds of pressure per square foot against the window into the tank. “The displays are acrylic so the bullet’s not going to penetrate, but the stress fracture it could create” could be a problem, Davis says. This is why the aquarium has a strict no-firearms policy, except for uniformed police officers. Instead, if someone has a firearm they’re required to place it in one of the aquarium’s gun lockers before they are allowed to enter the building.

To prepare for emergencies, the staff also conducts regular evacuation drills using volunteers who role play as guests. “Even though they know the building and everything as well as we do, they’re our guests and we look at how I can empty 1,800 and something people out of my dolphin theater in less than nine minutes,” Davis says. Along with the evacuation drills, the aquarium also conducts drills for extracting a scuba diver from a tank as well as ambulance response drills and fire drills.

Another major concern for the aquarium that it handles on a day-to-day basis is children getting separated from their parent or school group. “We lose parents all the time. We don’t lose kids,” Davis jokes. “We have a procedure that if we have a lost child, the front doors and the back doors go on high alert.”

Once the staff is notified that someone is missing, the staff member gets a description of the person and relays that to the staff via radio at all exit points. The doors are not sealed, but people stationed at them will be checking to make sure that, when people leave, the person that they’re looking for is not exiting the building as well. This procedure is kept in place until the missing person has been reunited with his or her party.

In addition, a local hospital sponsors a first aid station that’s staffed daily with an EMT in case there’s a medical emergency at the aquarium. The EMT also stays on duty if there’s an evening event at the aquarium that’s hosting more than 500 people.

For future plans, the aquarium is hoping to add to the 196 cameras it currently has stationed throughout the facility, and Davis hopes to add IP-based ones as well. “Everybody has a budget and you just start slowly chipping away from it and going in, and upgrading–and that’s where we are now because I need more cameras,” he explains.