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latest wireless surveillance technology

Written by Ksenia Coffman

How can public safety and law enforcement professionals provide security at outdoor locations without either deploying patrols 24x7 or burying fiber to extend surveillance reach? To cover remote locations such as downtown areas, parks, university campuses, retail malls, city-owned parking lots, bridges, transit stations and high-crime areas—without breaking the budget—many agencies are increasingly turning to wireless surveillance.

Wireless Outdoor Surveillance

When hard-wired networking infrastructure is not available, wireless is often the only logical choice, especially compared to trenching as expensive as $300 per linear foot. Wireless can be deployed to extend or back up existing fiber infrastructure, resulting in much lower overall costs of projects. The time it takes to lay fiber, or to secure architectural permits and rights of way, is another important consideration that is driving the use of wireless technologies. Wireless networks can be installed in days or weeks, compared to months when trenching and cabling is involved.

On the operational side, video surveillance systems require a great deal of flexibility, and wireless networks offer advantages that wired systems just can’t match. A wireless system can transport real-time wireless video, voice and data from just about any location. Cameras can be installed in buses or trains, fixed on buildings, repositioned, added or replaced, and there’s no need to trench sidewalks, close streets or disrupt the day-to-day life of the community.

Wireless Options

Before embarking on a wireless project, agencies should carefully assess three available technologies to pick the right one for their particular application.

1. Point-to-point wireless systems provide connections between two fixed locations and are typically used in limited-scope deployments. High-capacity bridges can also be used to backhaul other wireless networks. 2. Point-to-multipoint wireless systems deliver network connections to multiple remote locations. When tall buildings are available, these systems can offer cost-effective deployments. 3. Multipoint to multipoint (wireless mesh) systems are by nature self-healing for resiliency. Redundant links eliminate single points of failure associated with conventional wireless networks, while multiple paths overcome line-of-sight issues.

Wireless infrastructure mesh may be the best choice for critical applications because it provides multiple paths to ensure reliability of critical information, be it application data or video transmission. The flexibility of mesh allows it to be deployed in any of the above scenarios—point-to-point for backhaul, point-to-multipoint, or “true” mesh for complete redundancy.

Infrastructure mesh networks from Firetide support 900 MHz, 2.4 GHz, 4.9 GHz (U.S. public safety licensed band) and 5 GHz. Firetide technology delivers fiber-equivalent throughput and latency with flexibility and reliability of wireless mesh technology. Networks can be deployed rapidly to service temporary events such as rallies and festivals to deliver “event mesh” capabilities.

Wireless infrastructure mesh also adds layers of data security. Firetide’s mesh encrypts data from the source to the destination with no decryption along the way. In addition to encryption, Firetide “encapsulates” packets traveling via secure links. Encapsulation provides another level of security because only Firetide nodes can see the encapsulated packets.

Protecting Vulnerable Areas

Wireless video surveillance is now a go-to solution to serve and protect the public for many municipalities, including Dallas, Chicago, Phoenix, Orlando and Los Angeles County. Recently, the city of Rochester, which is New York’s second largest economy, rolled out a video surveillance network to combat violent and drug-related crime. Deployed by national security solutions provider Avrio RMS Group and using Firetide wireless infrastructure mesh technology, the network spans 36 square miles and reaches into vulnerable areas. In just the first six months of deployment, police have made more than 30 arrests.

“Generally speaking, Rochester is a very safe community. However, violent and drug-related crime has created challenges for us,” said Rochester Police Chief David Moore. “As with all bustling economic and cultural centers, Rochester is not immune to criminal activity.”

To combat this, the department launched a joint effort with the mayor’s office to deploy a 50-camera wireless surveillance operation. Thirteen Video Network Aggregation Points (VNAPs) scattered throughout the city can collect wireless feeds from up to dozens of cameras each and, in turn, communicate the signals wirelessly to five fiber points-of-presence for backhaul to police headquarters.

“We took full advantage of the flexibility of Firetide infrastructure mesh technology,” said Rick Rubenstein of Avrio RMS Group. “Each VNAP has a point-to-multi-point topology, with mesh “at the edge” to enable expansion further into neighborhoods. By using Firetide for all elements of the wireless network, we were able to give the city the optimum combination of cost, coverage and throughput.”

A wireless foundation was common to virtually all integrator proposals despite an open-ended RFP from the city. James Roney, Rochester’s IT manager, noted, “Wireless afforded the flexibility and speed-of-deployment we wouldn’t have gotten if we’d hard-wired. Within a three-month period the entire infrastructure was deployed and tested, and the first camera signals were coming through and fully operational.”

The city requires transmission rates of 30 frames per second to ensure the video, stored for 14 days, is evidence-grade quality. Moore says the live video feeds are monitored within the police department by injured or retired sworn officers and potential police recruits. When monitoring in residential neighborhoods, the system employs privacy masking to ensure that residents’ privacy is maintained. In addition to Firetide wireless transport, the system includes Pelco video cameras and Genetec video management software.

“We were able to maintain the city’s quaint presence. In fact, one of our biggest challenges was also one of Rochester’s most attractive features: we have an unusually high number of trees for an urban area,” Roney says. As a best practice, the city’s IT department insisted the system be installed during a season when trees had full foliage to ensure year-round line-of-sight for the wireless network.

Mission Critical Security

Surveillance systems that use wireless infrastructure for streaming live video feeds are ideal for monitoring far-reaching facilities. California State University, Long Beach, one of the nation’s largest public universities, deployed a wireless surveillance system to alleviate safety concerns ranging from auto theft and vandalism to traffic flow and congestion. The system was conceived and implemented by the University’s Police Department.

“Over the years, our campus has grown in scope and sophistication in terms of day-to-day activities, traffic (both pedestrian and vehicular) and special events,” says Stanley Skipworth, Chief of Police, California State University, Long Beach. “We needed to enhance our public safety capabilities by providing an expanded view of activities on campus, including building exteriors, parking lots and surrounding areas.”

The university couldn’t temporarily shut down to lay fixed cable. “We would have been trenching all over the place, which is horribly disruptive and just wouldn’t fly,” says Greg Pascal, communications and information systems manager for the police department. “We had no other option but wireless. It would have been phenomenally expensive to go with a hard-wired solution to get the coverage we needed.”

37 pan-tilt-zoom cameras, 29 of which are connected wirelessly, and 40 Firetide mesh nodes comprise the university’s network. The network operates in the licensed 4.9 GHz public safety band to reduce interference and provide extra security; the system includes Bosch analog cameras and IndigoVision encoders and video management. The majority of cameras are strategically located on light poles and other structures around the campus and its parking lots.

“We designed the system so that the camera feeds cover the predominant majority of the campus. In many locations, the developing situation can be viewed from two or more cameras. This allows us to further validate assumptions and arrive at the best strategic decision on how to respond,” said Chief Skipworth. “So far, we’ve used the system in responding to a number of suspicious activities and medical emergencies. We’ve also used the camera system to monitor traffic conditions, so it has turned out to be a great traffic management tool for our campus.”

The university and police department own and operate the secure network, so they have the ability to add other high-bandwidth applications like data transmission. Recently, the PD installed mesh nodes in the police cruisers to update automatic license plate recognition (ALPR) data wirelessly. Ultimately, the network will be used to stream live video into patrol cars on the beat.

Key Success Factors

High-performing wireless infrastructure is not trivial to design and deploy, and infrastructure-grade wireless equipment is a considerable investment. Before making a wireless move, public safety agencies should carefully weigh costs versus benefits. Success of any wireless video surveillance installation requires intelligent planning from the start.

Deploying wireless video surveillance requires careful attention to logistics, RF engineering and network design. Organizations must perform site surveys to determine any issues involving line-of-sight obstructions that may be present in the surrounding geography (hills, valleys, rivers, lakes) or metro areas (buildings, tunnels, trees).

Planning for scale is also key, especially where public safety departments expect to add new applications or camera locations. Video will eat bandwidth quickly, and any wireless infrastructure should have plenty of room to grow—even if current requirements appear limited. This might sound obvious, but organizations that focus on narrowband data can easily underestimate the requirements for transmitting high-throughput video.

There’s no question whether wireless networks “mesh” well with law enforcement’s priorities. As they require greater mechanisms for protecting the public and serving the community—it’s not a matter of if, but when wireless technology will become the go-to option for extending security and surveillance networks.

Ksenia Coffman is marketing manager at Firetide. She can be reached at kcoffman@firetide.com.

Published in Law and Order, Oct 2009

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