Here Comes The Sun
Print Issue: January 2015
Thousands of dancing, singing co-eds. Twenty-some musical acts. One day. Welcome to the Sun God Festival, the 24 hours in May when more than 20,000 University of California, San Diego (UCSD), college students and their guests gather on the north end of the 2,100-acre campus to kick back and relax.
As with any large gathering, however, bad behavior is almost a given. Arrest totals at the festival (which is named after a statue on the UCSD campus) increased from 96 in 2012 to 146 in 2013. There was also an increase in alcohol-related violations, up from 124 in 2012 to 148 in 2013, when 48 people were hospitalized, according to records from the university's Associated Students Office of the President.
This rising trend caused concern at the university, which is considered one of the top 15 research universities in the world and has more than 30,000 students enrolled at its campus in La Jolla, California. In March 2014, a few months before last year's Sun God Festival, UCSD began looking for a solution that would help it better monitor the crowd during the event and respond to incidents.
During previous festivals, the campus police—who are responsible for security at UCSD—were unable to view what was happening at the event remotely in real time. This was due to a lack of infrastructure in the area, meaning there was no way to install cameras, connect them to the campus network, and then view the footage live, says Roberto Meza, UCSD's campus security systems coordinator. Even though the school was looking to install a system, it still could not be dependent on local power because there was no infrastructure to support it.
Initially a challenge, this power requirement ultimately worked in the university's favor. Shortly after announcing the plan to look into a surveillance solution, UCSD Vice Chancellor Gary Matthews, who oversees resource management and planning, and who is also responsible for many of the sustainability initiatives on campus, recommended that Meza check out MicroPower Technologies.
MicroPower creates solar-powered camera units that can operate for as long as five days in complete darkness. Along with a camera, the unit is equipped with a central receiving hub, which eliminates the need for trenching and cabling to connect the unit to a video management system for streaming. Installing such a system would allow the campus police to monitor the festival in real time and advance the university's sustainability initiatives.
After speaking with MicroPower, UCSD was referred to a local integrator, who worked with the university to identify and design a system using
MicroPower's technology for the festival area. UCSD ultimately went with the company's solar, wireless surveillance system, and the integrator was able to install the three-camera solution on a single light pole in less than 48 hours. "They were really only up on the pole doing the hardware installation for maybe eight hours total, which is pretty quick because they had to get a lift and coordinate access for traffic control," Meza adds.
The cameras use only 0.5 watts of power to capture and transmit live video up to 0.5 miles away. Each camera relies on a 1.2-square foot solar panel to power it. So far none of the cameras at UCSD have lost power—despite the regularly foggy weather, Meza says.
The wireless transmission has also worked well for the university because it allows the feed from the cameras to connect to a special security network, which houses UCSD's video surveillance traffic. This feed can then be streamed from almost anywhere on campus with the proper authentication.
"We are able to view it live at our command center, which is actually on site during [the Sun God Festival], and we have the capability to pull it up at our dispatch center or on somebody's phone, workstation, or laptop with the proper VPN access," Meza explains.
This is important during events, like the festival, when the cameras can be used to monitor pedestrian traffic into and out of the event. For instance, if exit lanes became congested after an event someone could radio the operational team to alert them to open more lanes.
That way "we don't have an issue of people trampling on each other, or people hurting one another or [of the area] becoming congested and taking a long time to get people in and out of the event," Meza explains.
This is just one example of how the MicroPower system, which was originally intended to be used by the campus police, is now being used as an operational tool for festival management. "We're able to get a dual purpose out of the cameras, so it isn't just for us to view and for us to respond on the police side," according to Meza.
The police and operations staff are also able to monitor ambulances that are stationed on site during the festival. The operations staff can monitor the vehicles to ensure that they're where they need to be, and the police can watch the camera feeds to alert staff if anyone appears to need medical assistance during the festival.
Because of this ability, the MicroPower cameras have remained where they were originally installed—despite their ability to be easily relocated—and UCSD has used them to monitor other events in the location, including the spring 2014 commencement ceremony.
After successfully operating the system at the Sun God Festival, UCSD also deployed another MicroPower solution in August 2014 alongside Black's Beach, a popular waterfront area near campus, to monitor the exterior of restroom facilities there. "We're deploying additional cameras there to look at pedestrian traffic," Meza says. There's also a vehicle thoroughfare nearby, so the system will be used to determine if vehicles are at the beach after hours. Once again, the system will provide a dual use for the police and for the operational staff.
"On the operations side, it'll assist because our facilities staff can monitor it and see if there are issues of trash or congestion," he explains. "On the safety side, we can communicate to the lifeguards or emergency response or within our police department to deploy staff there if there's something unusual occurring."
Meza says that UCSD is pleased with the installation of the MicroPower systems; they allow monitoring in areas of campus that otherwise might be unreachable. "It's just nice to have flexibility, the ability to look at areas, to configure areas where we normally wouldn't," Meza adds. "With this solar capability, we can just put up ad hoc deployments as we need to. Whether it is bike theft, or vehicle theft, or safety concerns, we can deploy these cameras pretty quickly."
And it is fitting that a festival honoring the sun is protected by a system that owes its operation to solar power.