Deputy Don Sarginson of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office relies on technology tools to protect game-goers.

Jan 15 2009

Keeping Super Bowl Fans Safe with IP Cameras and Wireless Networks

Government agencies tap technology to secure facilities and manage traffic.

On Feb. 1, Don Sarginson will join 72,500 raucous football fans at Tampa Bay's Raymond James Stadium for Super Bowl festivities, from tailgate parties and the NFL Experience theme park to the 6 p.m. kickoff.

But when the teams take the field, Sarginson won't be watching from the stands. Instead, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's deputy will join the FBI, the Tampa Police Department and other law enforcement agencies in securing the stadium from terrorist attacks, hostage-taking and other threats. They know they must protect the venue like linemen protecting their quarterback. But for this game, they'll strictly play defense, deploying high-tech tools, such as sniffers for hazardous materials, X-ray imaging equipment and surveillance cameras inside and outside the stadium.

Commercial Break

Cost of a 30-second Super Bowl ad

1967 $37,500 on NBC; $42,500 on CBS

1987 $600,000

1998 $1.6 million

2007 $2.38 million

2009 $3 million

Sources: MSNBC, Associated Press, ACNielsen

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office will patrol part of the stadium's perimeter and will hoist IP surveillance cameras atop poles, nearby buildings or sheriff's vehicles, watching for suspicious activity from monitors in the interagency command center. Unlike referees on the field, however, Sarginson knows he won't have the luxury of instant replay and will need to spot and stop threats in real time.

"Every agency is bringing in their own security systems, and I know I will use our cameras," says Sarginson, a deputy sheriff and bomb technician assigned to the Sheriff's Special Incident Management Section. "We need to make sure we cover the entire site. Our concerns can be anything and everything, ranging from a truck to a shoebox. It's about us getting there before a situation becomes a life-or-death incident. We need to catch it before it happens."

State and local government agencies are zooming in on IP surveillance cameras to detect and deter crime, as well as aid traffic or crowd control at large sporting or civic events, such as parades. The cameras also safeguard government buildings and parking lots and protect employees. If crimes occur, authorities can review camera footage as part of their investigation.

IP camera deployments are growing because the technology holds many advantages over analog, closed-circuit TV systems. IP cameras have become more affordable, are easier to install and offer more features, such as motion detectors, behavioral analytics software, and integration with alarms and access-control systems, analysts say. Today, IP cameras make up only 23 percent of annual U.S. deployments, but are expected to overtake analog camera sales by 2011, says IDC Research Manager Christopher Chute.

IP Cameras Hold Appeal for Local Agencies

Winners and Losers

Most Super Bowl Victories

  • Pittsburgh Steelers — 6
  • Dallas Cowboys — 5
  • San Francisco 49ers — 5

Most Futile Super Bowl Effort — 4 Trips and 4 Losses Each

  • Buffalo Bills
  • Minnesota Vikings


Alabama's Department of Transportation installed more than 110 analog cameras along the highways in Birmingham and Mobile to monitor and manage traffic in 1997, but now the department is switching to IP cameras. "IP cameras have come down in price, their durability has improved, and it will free up fibers because they use less bandwidth than the analog cameras," says Jeff Little, an ALDOT Intelligent Transportation Systems electrical designer.

Deploying IP will also simplify management. Alabama will no longer have to use video encoders to convert the analog signals to digital images, which will simplify making the video available to commuters over the web, Little says.

Government is taking advantage of IP cameras in different ways. For example, in Los Banos, Calif., cameras fixed on the police station and banks are connected to the city's fiber network, while a camera overlooking the city's main intersection is wirelessly linked to the city network. Across the country, New York's West Babylon Fire Department installed 50 cameras to protect its three fire stations from thieves.

While most agencies deploy stationary cameras, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and the Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency in Alabama use them for mobile surveillance. Portable communications kits from F4W enable them to implement IP cameras and wireless networks quickly, regardless of location.

Keeping a Close Eye on Government Property

Top Security Threats

Credit: Mark Greenberg

Jordan Merson of the San Antonio River Authority relies on IP cameras to protect the agency's facilities and ensure equipment is operating properly after hours.

During this year's Super Bowl in Tampa, Fla., law enforcement's main concern is improvised explosive devices, followed by the threat of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attacks, says Don Sarginson of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office Special Incident Management Section.

Deputies, officers and agents will also keep an eye out for more minor offenses, such as simple assaults and disorderly conduct. “We're trained to look for the full gambit,” he says.

The San Antonio River Authority first dabbled with IP cameras by aiming a webcam on the San Antonio River Walk tourist attraction. More recently, the Texas agency installed cameras to beef up security at its five facilities, where it oversees water quality, flood control and wastewater treatment.

Jordan Merson, web administrator, deployed seven Axis network cameras, digital-video recorder software and a server to hold 1 terabyte of footage. Some cameras are stationed along the perimeter of the office buildings, while others cover the fence line at the edge of the properties.

For long distances, Merson installed high-end Proxim Tsunami bridges, which link a building's LAN to an IP camera located near the fence. For shorter distances, such as a parking lot, he put up multiple D-Link access points and built a "wireless distribution system," which expands the wireless coverage area by linking the devices together and allowing them to communicate.

"The wastewater treatment plants cover up to 20 acres of open field, and to cover the entire perimeter, it's kind of cost-prohibitive to dig trenches and run power and network cable throughout, so we opted to go with wireless," Merson says.

This year, he's budgeting for two dozen more cameras to increase coverage. In the meantime, the surveillance system he's installed is working perfectly, he says. He and his colleagues access the cameras by logging onto the web from home or at work.

No break-ins have occurred that have required security to review footage, but employees are taking advantage of the cameras in another way: They view the cameras live during off-hours to make sure treatment plant equipment is working properly.

Overall, the technology is worth the investment, Merson says. Each camera costs about $1,200, and when wireless connectivity is accounted for, the cost per camera is about $2,400. Considering that it costs $1,000 a month to hire a security firm to monitor a parking lot, he figures an in-house surveillance system will eventually pay for itself.

Security Has Gone Mobile

When an emergency arises, Alabama's Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency mobilizes quickly to help people in need. And when the community hosts major sporting events, such as PGA tournaments or the annual Magic City Classic football game, the agency is on hand to provide assistance.

In both cases, Jefferson County's Emergency Management Coordinator Allen Kniphfer brings four IP surveillance cameras and his F4W portable communications kit along to help with crowd and traffic control. If the agency is providing food and hygiene kits to tornado victims, he puts the cameras up to get a bird's-eye view of how the crowd is flowing. He does the same at the airport and outside golf courses and stadiums when large sporting events occur.

Sales Soar

By the end of 2008, an estimated 740,000 IP surveillance cameras had been implemented in the United States.

2006 189,000

2007 380,000

2008 740,000

Source: IDC

"We can see what the traffic flow is like, and if it's tied up, we can get a handle on it," Kniphfer explains. "We can reroute traffic three blocks away with more signage if there's traffic congestion. Or if we need to position more people to help people get around traffic, we do that."

The F4W mobile communications kit, called the Portable System Interconnect, includes a Voice over IP system and phones, 802.11 wireless equipment and add-ons that include IP cameras and a satellite dish for Internet connectivity. The cameras can be deployed in a variety of ways, including hoisting them onto 25-foot military masts. A wireless network carries the video feed, and users view it on their computers.

The technology "is very easy to use and set up," says Kniphfer. He invested $250,000 on the equipment over the past few years. He says it's hard to quantify a return on investment, but the ability to help and save lives makes the technology priceless. "When you help people get service they need during a disaster or use a tool that allows you to better serve citizens, you can't put a price to it," he says.

Sarginson owns 14 IP cameras from different manufacturers and uses them to gather intelligence during hostage situations and for crowd control and security at civic events, such as Tampa's annual Gasparilla Pirate Festival or Guavaween, a Latin-style Halloween.

As for the Super Bowl, Sarginson is ready. After a year of meetings and training sessions, with good technology tools at their disposal, law enforcement agencies are prepared to protect everyone at the stadium.

"We want to give people the most pleasant and safe experience they will ever have," he says.

Cameras Trained on Traffic Jams

The Alabama Department of Transportation has installed video cameras along highway routes and city streets to help ease congestion and assist emergency responders.

Snack Time

Americans eat 30 million pounds of snacks during the Super Bowl.

11.2 million pounds of potato chips

8.2 million pounds of tortilla chips

4.3 million pounds of pretzels

3.8 million pounds of popcorn

2.5 million pounds of nuts

Source: Calorie Control Council

Traffic engineers can monitor the cameras, and if traffic is heavy, they can adjust the timing on traffic signals on city streets to improve traffic flow. Fire and police dispatchers also view the cameras, which can pan, tilt and zoom, to determine where to send emergency crews when accidents occur.

"They can zoom in and locate the exact location of incidents along the interstate system," says Jeff Little, an ALDOT Intelligent Transportation Systems electrical designer. "Emergency crews don't know if an accident is north, south, east or west, so by calling up the camera system, they can see exactly which side of the interstate the accident is on and do a quick assessment of what resources are needed."

In addition, the state has installed a second set of cameras — fixed, public-access cameras — that motorists can view on the ALDOT website to gauge traffic before starting their commute, he says.

ALDOT has made most of the cameras available on the web within the past three years. The video stream is first sent to a matrix switch on the network. Then video encoders digitize the analog video, and after the conversion process, the video is transferred to a Windows distribution server, which then makes the video available on the web.

ALDOT has begun to swap out hurricane-damaged analog cameras with IP cameras in the Mobile area, and over the next few years, the department hopes to migrate fully to IP cameras in both Mobile and Birmingham. That will allow the state to provide camera access to mobile devices such as smart phones for the first time. Right now, people can view the cameras only on a computer web browser.

"Dealing with analog signals and encoding them to digital and trying to route them to different locations within our network is cumbersome," Little says. "With IP cameras, it frees us from having to use a matrix switch and will allow us to make the cameras available to different avenues, such as PDAs, before getting behind the wheel."

Stop, Thief!

New York's West Babylon Fire Department installed Axis surveillance cameras to protect its three fire stations from thieves and to keep an eye on its firefighters.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Homeland Security was worried about fire trucks being stolen, so the volunteer fire department invested $170,000 last year on a video surveillance system and an access control system, which requires staffers to use key fobs to go in and out of entrances. In all, the department placed 50 cameras inside and outside the stations and uses a network video recorder to store video footage from all three stations in one central location.

Fire Commissioner Richard Vella has seen several benefits from the cameras. There are fewer reports of missing equipment, and firefighters are filing fewer insurance claims for falls or other injuries at the fire station. And fewer youngsters now skateboard in front of the fire station exits, which was a safety hazard for firefighters who might have to go out on a call at a moment's notice.

If equipment goes missing or if firefighters claim they got hurt while at a fire station, fire department administrators can go to a computer, log into the video management software and investigate, Vella says.

“It will take a couple of years to recoup some of the money, but we feel it's worth it,” he says.

<p>Forrest MacCormack</p>

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