Surveillance on the Fly
Long before Jack Hanagriff was tasked with creating a temporary camera deployment for Super Bowl LIVE, he called on Keith Drummond, senior director of sales for IDIS America, for help supplementing the city’s camera infrastructure. Drummond traveled to Houston for the NCAA Men’s Final Four tournament in April 2016 to better understand the city’s needs, and found that Houston was dealing with a common problem: it needed temporary coverage of the event area but didn’t have time to deploy a whole surveillance system.
“They have an existing video surveillance system with hundreds of cameras, but when they have these special events they don’t always have cameras where they need them,” Drummond explains. “And IP-based video surveillance is just inherently very difficult to employ and very time consuming.”
Although the Final Four was at a known location, Drummond said last-minute changes could leave officers scrambling: bad weather could force an outdoor event to relocate, or companies or celebrities might decide to throw their own side events at the last minute. “These celebrities will decide they want 10,000 people in an outdoor gathering for their party, and the city finds out last minute and now needs cameras where they don’t have them,” Drummond explains.
After visiting Houston and talking with Hanagriff about the city’s needs, IDIS and integrator Edge360 created a rapidly redeployable solution to be used during Houston’s 2016 Freedom Over Texas Fourth of July event. The solution they created could be deployed in under four hours by untrained personnel—setup only requires a place to hang the camera and a power source, Drummond notes.
John Rezzonico, CEO of Edge360, says that his military background taught him the importance of being able to adapt in the field, and he applied that logic to surveillance systems. “We came up with a solution that allows police officers to deploy cameras wherever they want, and if something changes they can quickly grab them, power them down, move them, stand them back up, and they come back up online,” Rezzonico explains. “The goal of the project is freedom of movement of the camera sensors, so that way they augment and support existing infrastructure of security that’s already in place.”
Rezzonico noted that the biggest challenge was overcoming bandwidth saturation to send the video feeds to command centers or mobile devices. “If everyone is using their cell phones at the same time, bandwidth goes away and everyone relying on it for public safety loses the video feed,” he explains. “Houston wanted a wireless solution that could augment their fixed security that was mobile and easy to deploy but could also utilize whatever bandwidth was available. Our solution didn’t just include cellular, it included WiFi and point-to-point transmission. It was all built in.”
The Freedom Over Texas event took place at Discovery Green, a 12-acre park, and 50,000 people were expected to attend. The park already had some broad camera coverage, but Drummond explains that there were a few areas where more specific views were needed. Four pan-tilt-zoom cameras were installed to focus on high-volume areas such as the stage. IDIS had to address the unique environment, taking the event itself into account. Because the fireworks show was going to be the centerpiece of the event—making the camera image go from nighttime to broad daylight with each explosion—cameras that could handle the fluctuation were required.
Video feeds were sent to the city’s main command center where they could be viewed side-by-side with the city’s existing camera feeds, but unlike the existing cameras the redeployable cameras could be viewed on mobile devices at satellite command centers and in the field. Since the main goal of the solution was to create a rapidly redeployable surveillance system, Drummond says IDIS and Edge360 tried to be as hands-off as possible during the deployment.
“We set ourselves up for failure—the concept is that they need to be deployed quickly by untrained personnel, in some cases the utility guy who had never seen them,” Drummond says. “We were obviously available if needed, but we didn’t give them any training and let them do things how they wanted.” The deployment went as expected, and there was no connectivity trouble.
During the Freedom Over Texas event, the cameras were able to use the cell network almost exclusively, but experienced occasional blips in the service. During those moments, video continued to be recorded on the camera’s SIM card, and that footage was transmitted back to the control center once the live feed was active again.
“Frankly, most of the time it’s the recorded video that’s most important, not the live video,” Drummond explains. “They are watching those cameras in real time, but most of the time there’s no action to be taken. But if an event does take place during an outage, you didn’t record it for evidence purposes. The smart failover technology changes that.”
“It’s key for cities to be able to share this system,” Rezzonico notes. “If a municipality buys it, they can send it to another one that needs it for easy deployment.”