Heating Up The Perimeter
Like the network of fiber optic cable that digitally connects much of the world, Cox Enterprises, Inc., stretches its way through 12 different U.S. states, providing services to millions of Americans through Cox Communications, Manheim, Cox Media Group, and AutoTrader Group.
At the center of this complex web that employs more than 50,000 individuals is Cox’s corporate headquarters in Atlanta. It began as an office building of about 750 people, but the headquarters has expanded to host approximately 5,000 employees and contractors. Throughout this period of growth, Cox’s security camera system grew alongside it. However, the analog cameras that were added weren’t always compatible with the existing system, creating a patchwork of surveillance equipment.
In an attempt to modernize the system, Cox hired Andrew Corsaro in 2012 as the director of operations and physical security. He began working alongside Duane Ritter, vice president and chief security officer for Cox, to migrate the enterprise from multiple analog camera systems to one IP system.
The goal was to work with the various business units within Cox to review what Corsaro and Ritter thought might make a successful video solution, get their buy-in, and develop one enterprise solution that could be managed across the entire corporation. The duo decided to focus first on the critical infrastructure of the radio and television broadcast business units: broadcast towers.
“We own a lot of infrastructure throughout the country and here in Atlanta is our flagship station, WSB,” Corsaro explains. WSB, the South’s oldest radio station, was purchased by Cox in 1939. Building off of the success of the radio station, Cox created WSB-TV in 1948, the South’s first television station.
The history of the station’s tower has made it even more valuable to the corporation. Cox took a hard look at the facility and conducted a risk assessment, discovering “large vulnerabilities within the perimeter.” These vulnerabilities were low-light, and in some cases no-light, areas where it would be easy for someone to penetrate the perimeter security of the tower.
To address these security challenges, Cox had to make a decision. Should it look for ways to add lighting infrastructure to increase visibility in the low-light areas? Or, as Corsaro puts it, should it look for a camera solution that “cuts right through the night?”
Cox decided to go with a camera solution and began looking at thermal imaging technology. “For many years, [thermal] was really only used by the military and now it’s become such an easy and affordable option for the private sector,” Corsaro explains. With that in mind, Cox decided to turn to FLIR and its line of thermal cameras.
“FLIR has been around for a long time, and so we thought that that would be a good option to look at,” Corsaro explains. “And, in fact, it turned out to be the best option because the price points have come to a very reasonable standard, and in some cases it’s less expensive to buy a camera than it is to add lighting.”
From a return on investment standpoint, the decision was easy, and Cox installed two FLIR SR-645 cameras along the perimeter of the WSB tower in Atlanta in June 2013. The cameras are fixed thermal imaging security cameras with 13 millimeter lenses and 640 by 480 resolution. They also have a long range, so Cox can use fewer cameras to monitor the same area. “With the FLIR cameras, we’re getting roughly about 300-plus meters of range coverage,” Corsaro says.
The cameras have also helped Cox by decreasing its security guard costs; continuous remote monitoring has substituted for more costly patrols. “It’s basically eyeballs on our assets 24/7,” Corsaro explains.
The one drawback of the cameras, however, is that because they provide a thermal image, they can’t produce a forensic view of what they’re recording. “Meaning, if somebody were to walk through an area, you’re not going to be able to see their face and actually get an image for identification purposes; it’s really only for detection,” Corsaro says.
However, Cox has taken steps to remedy that problem by using a video analytics system from VideoIQ to alert security operators if there’s a disturbance within the perimeter. “For example, if we had a rural area that has a low fence, we can use the analytics to set up on that fence line,” Corsaro explains. “But it’ll only alarm us when either a person jumps the fence or a vehicle pulls in the gate or goes through the gate. If a deer is walking around the fence line or jumps inside the fence, it won’t set off the alarm.”
Having the analytics running on the camera system also helps keep security staff focused on the true threats to Cox’s infrastructure, Ritter says. “You can’t have an operator sitting there looking at 1,700 different cameras, so [Cox] wanted to make sure that the cameras that pop up on the screen were based on analytics based on alarms that actually meant something,” Ritter explains.
Security operators also have the ability to speak directly to someone who’s trespassing. “We are using talk-back capability so the operator has the ability to talk through a loudspeaker attached to the camera to the person that’s entered your property,” Ritter adds. “So it gives us some preventative measures to be more proactive. Instead of watching someone on camera damaging property or stealing property, we can actually try to thwart it by challenging the individual over a loudspeaker.”
Since the original installation of the cameras at the WSB tower, Cox has expanded its use of FLIR’s SR-645 to other areas. During the summer of 2013, Cox installed 11 FLIR cameras at the Manheim Auto Auction site in Atlanta. The site is approximately 85 acres of mostly surface parking lots that store vehicles for auctions held at the location. Cox is using FLIR’s cameras as part of the perimeter security in areas that have little to no light.
This has already proved beneficial for the Manheim lot, where the cameras have captured unauthorized entries into the vehicle storage areas.
“The best capture so far was in our automotive business unit where a team of car thieves were captured after they breached a fence line being monitored by video analytics,” he notes. “The prevention of that one attempted theft paid for the entire camera system.”
Additionally, Cox has expanded its use of cameras to its aviation facility, a hangar that stores its corporate jets. There are already plans to install two more cameras at the site in the coming months, along with other installations at various locations down the road.
“At Cox we find the solution that we know works and meets our expectations, and when we have projects that come up that require that type of solution, we’ve already got it in our toolbox to use,” Corsaro says.