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Wireless surveillance and security

Around the world, wireless surveillance of city streets and buildings is becoming more common. The United Kingdom leads the way, but other nations are quickly realizing the value of such systems toward achieving better security for people and property. Addressing the trend was a panel assembled at the recent International Wireless Communications Expo in Las Vegas. Moderated by Larry Anderson, editor of Access Control and Security Magazine, the panel included Michael Dillon, vice president, Business Development-Municipal Markets, Firetide; Louis-Nicolas Hamer, product manager, Verint Systems; Ray Shilling, vice president of Sales and Marketing, AvaLAN Wireless; and William Snell, vice president of Technology, Risk Control Strategies.

Louis-Nicolas Hamer explained that both Europe and Latin America have increased the use of surveillance in the past 10 years. The U.S. is now deploying cameras in many cities. Although effective in reducing crime and in improving neighborhoods, surveillance systems face problems including cost, geographically dispersed areas, and landscaping and buildings that affect clear coverage. There are also some cities with historical areas where trenches and wiring are out of the question because of preservation of the historical site. Hamer said there is a need to integrate data from such sources as alarms, emergency response, and other systems, yet stay within the budget of the surveillance system.

A good system must be able to capture, transmit, archive, and operate effectively, Hamer said. New capture techniques reduce the need to watch camera images constantly, and they reduce false alarms. In addition, storage can be optimized. In transfer, there is no need for expensive cabling, he said. The 4.9GHz public safety band for dedicated emergency communications is an interference-free band, and video links can be secured using the 128-bit advanced encryption standard. Wireless video must be handled securely, he said, for effective archiving, integrated video, bi-directional audio, control for point / tilt / zoom cameras and interfaces. The system must be kept convenient, discrete and secure, and operation must have a unified framework.

He gave the example of the city of Sao Paulo, Brazil. The surveillance system installed in the city has deterred crime and antisocial behavior while improving neighborhoods and gathering information.

Michael Dillon spoke of the example of the city of Chicago’s Operation Virtual Shield. Built out of the existing network, it increased dispatching efficiencies, creating an advanced, networked, digital video surveillance system. The system integrates with a CAD system so that dispatchers can see what is occurring at a scene even before officers arrive. City-owned poles and structures are used for the cameras and access points. Chicago “didn’t want the system to be ugly,” Dillon said. Had wire been used, the system would have been $300 per linear foot. The system, instead, has full routing within the wireless mesh network. The only nodes that answer are the ones that carry the data desired and that, Dillon said, “eliminates chattiness.” The city has a system that is “like having a cop on every corner,” he said. There is no handoff delay, and there is zero packet loss. Chicago is an applicant for the 2016 Olympic Games, and the surveillance system could benefit that application and would certainly enhance security if the Games occur in the city.

Dillon noted that cities must do their homework about where to put cameras. Get everyone together to discuss and to approve that, he advised. Hamer and Dillon both advised that it is essential to have an integrator keep the system controlled.

Ray Schilling told conference attendees that surveillance is not just for cities. It has its place in the private sector, as well, such as shopping centers. The challenge in such sites is line of sight where walls, landscaping, stacked merchandise or other physical barriers may affect transmission. IP cameras for wireless connections can be used because they are more fault tolerant and RF interference is lessened, he said. “Choose the right frequency for the job,” he said. Omni-directional antennae are needed where there are mobile applications, he said.

Schilling cited a shopping mall site in Dallas that has multiple remote wireless devices, surveillance cameras, access control, and point of sale devices all involved at the site.

William Snell told conference attendees, “We must be prepared and proactive” as a society and as individuals. “Wireless is just another tool” in that preparedness, he said. Tactical information through surveillance is yet another part of an officer’s resources. “Enhance security by thinking outside the box,” he said. A plan must include all details about the system, including how data will be archived.

Dillon said it is important to get broadcast-quality video, because if an image does not have a clear picture of a suspect’s face, hours are needed to investigate further. The surveillance system should have the ability to zoom in on an image.

As to funding a system, Dillon said, “[The] key is you don’t have to start these things off in a huge way.” Build out incrementally, he advised. Use grants, public and private partnerships, and other resources. Choose areas where surveillance cameras will be effective and that will garner support for further funding and expansion of the project. Schilling added that a surveillance system can be validated through a demonstration project, showing the technique to city and community leaders, and proving its accuracy and effectiveness.

If doing a project incrementally, Dillon advised having a “champion” for the project who will be on board for a while and who can make sure the project stays active. Hamer said the champion is also an “entryway” to the politics and the city’s side of the project. 

Stephenie Slahor, Ph.D., is a lawyer who writes in the fields of law enforcement and security. She can be reached at

Published in Public Safety IT, May/Jun 2008

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