Jan 14 2008

Advanced Surveillance Networks

Wireless and fiber provide the pipeline for analytics systems that scan for suspicious activity.

Wireless and fiber provide the pipeline for analytics systems that scan for suspicious activity.

Brian Snodgrass of New York’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications says the network fosters transmission of streaming video to emergency workers.

Need someone to watch over you? Not if you live in New York, Chicago, San Francisco or one of hundreds of other U.S. cities. That job is already being filled by local governments, which are using video surveillance cameras as crime-fighting and emergency-management tools. The cameras — many of them wireless devices — adorn ambulances, police cars and telephone poles.

But the real action goes on behind the camera. High-bandwidth fiber- and wireless-based networks tap powerful analytical software to sort huge volumes of digital data, while redundant storage devices quickly label, file and retrieve hundreds of terabytes of images.

Until recently, New York City police, firefighters and other city workers primarily used slower speed wireless devices, says Brian Snodgrass, executive director of citywide data radio infrastructure for New York’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT). The new network will allow them to send and receive images, maps and other large information files as well.

The applications are dramatic. New York firefighters, for example, can send full-motion images to mobile command centers. And the Chicago Police Department can program its surveillance network to automatically search for suspicious activity. “For example, if you have a sensitive building and you want to know if someone is loitering or if a truck keeps circling, the system can alert you,” says Roger Rehayem, IBM Client Solutions executive for Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC), which is using IBM’s Smart Surveillance Solution.

Filming Far and Wide

Until recently, most municipal video networks remained the bailiwick of transportation authorities, says Dilip Sarangan, industry analyst for market researcher Frost & Sullivan in San Antonio. They include Washington, D.C.’s, Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which has been equipping its buses since 2005 with video cameras; Houston, whose Metropolitan Transit Authority in November 2006 began deploying Web-based video cameras at 47 locations throughout the city; and San Francisco, which announced in late 2007 that it would spend $5.4 million to install video surveillance cameras in more than 40 of its Bay Area Rapid Transit system stations.

Now, video cameras dot the cityscape. New York’s DoITT recently completed a seven-month pilot program of a broadband public-safety wireless network, called New York City Wireless Network (NYCWiN), in lower Manhattan. The test involved the city’s fire, police, transportation and IT departments. Defense contractor Northrop Grumman, which was awarded a five-year, $500 million bid, is now rolling out the network across the 321 square miles of New York’s five boroughs. Agencies are expected to be brought onto NYCWiN beginning in spring, a DoITT spokesman says.

NYCWiN will allow agencies to share high-bandwidth data, including wireless streaming video, at incident scenes for first responders. DoITT is currently working to ensure that wireless video feeds from NYCWiN can be shared with video networks operated by other city agencies. The New York Department of Transportation operates nearly 100 still and video cameras from its Traffic Management Center in Long Island City, Queens; the Metropolitan Transportation Authority focuses another 20 still and video cameras on the city’s major bridges and tunnels; and the New York Police Department operates several thousand cameras. The NYPD announced in July that it was seeking $90 million to deploy an additional 3,000 cameras in lower Manhattan.

A similar strategy is being employed in Chicago, where the new Operation Virtual Shield video surveillance network connects the city’s Joint Operations Center, a central command post for large-scale emergencies; a separate Operations Center, a military-style command post capable of accessing databases and surveillance cameras located throughout the city; and Chicago’s Traffic Management Authority, which coordinates and manages multiple traffic-related city services.

Operation Virtual Shield, which began in the downtown area, links thousands of video cameras to a network that joins fiber-optic and wireless technology. On the fiber-optic portion, Operation Virtual Shield will add 30 miles of lines to 275 existing miles, and several hundred new cameras to several thousand already deployed, according to OEMC spokesman Kevin Smith. “All of our new [Operation Virtual Shield] cameras are fed into redundant fiber storage systems, both on site as well as disaster off-site contingency storage arrays,” Smith says.

And for the wireless, the network will use mesh technology developed by Los Gatos, Calif.–based Firetide, which has deployed similar networks in Phoenix and other cities. Mesh networks, which arrange wireless access points so that each device becomes a sender and receiver of network data, are often used by municipalities because they’re fairly easy to deploy. “The wireless capacity affords the city unbelievable flexibility relating to the amount of cameras we can aggregate from one access point,” Smith says.

Wireless technology is also essential to New York City’s recently unveiled technology strategy, PlanIT, says the DoITT’s Snodgrass. There, the city is using a Universal Mobile Telecommunications System Time Division solution. The technology allows high data throughputs and system stability even when a larger number of first responders are bunched together at a disaster site.

The benefits can clearly be seen, says Snodgrass. “We can now look at applications that are Web-based that have maps and photos, and transfer large files, including streaming video.”

Storage Demands Soar

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but not when it comes to storage. As law enforcement agencies rely more on digital video evidence and less on written testimony, demand for storage booms. Just think: A written description of a 30-second bank robbery might take a few hundred kilobytes to store on a hard drive. The same scene captured on high-quality video could take up to 30 megabytes.

Put another way, a building with 15 cameras running 24 hours a day would need at least 100 terabytes to store images for 30 days.

That’s why municipal governments are investing more in secure, redundant storage technology. In 2006, government agencies were responsible for 20 percent of the $1.26 billion IP video surveillance storage market in North America, according to Frost & Sullivan. The market should hit $2.95 billion by 2013, the research firm says.

The hot storage technologies now being eyed for video storage include RAID 6 (redundant array of independent disks), and Serial Advanced Technology Attachment (SATA).

FDNY Command

The New York City Fire Department is building a network-centric command system that will accommodate live video feeds from the public and private sectors and network connections to DHS, the FBI, the NYPD, the New York City Office of Emergency Management and other city, state and federal agencies.