Security | Feature
Digital Surveillance on a Budget
The University of Rhode Island is shifting to an IP-based video management system without abandoning analog cameras.
For more information on making the transition from an analog- to IP-based video surveillance system, read "All Eyes Turn to IP," in the October edition of Campus Technology.
Just as digital music made analog records largely obsolete, digital video management systems and internet protocol-based cameras are slowly but surely replacing analog closed-circuit TV systems for campus surveillance.
Among the limitations of proprietary analog CCTV systems are the cost of installing cabling to power them; the difficulty in scaling up; the lack of interoperability with other security systems; and the inability to provide access to authorized users in the field.
"Three years ago people might have still looked at analog systems, but that is not an option anymore," says Robert Grossman, an electronic security consultant based in Egg Harbor Township, NJ. "Everything is IP now."
But not everyone who wants to make the transition to IP has the budget to do so. When Paul Perrone joined the University of Rhode Island's Department of Public Safety as senior information technologist in 2008, he was immediately faced with a tough choice. A vendor was trying to convince him to upgrade the five digital video recorders (DVR) in the school's 70-camera analog surveillance system, but Perrone was skeptical. "I didn't have a good gut feeling about that," he recalls.
Perrone described some of the previous system's limitations. "For its time it was fine," he says, "but it was a chore to archive or view the videos in order to hand off to officers for further investigation. It wasn't stable enough and it would power down or fail."
Perrone was not going to make an additional investment in a system that wasn't easily scalable. "I had to factor growth into the equation," he says.
Thus began a months-long investigation of ways to upgrade to a new video management system (VMS) on a limited budget of approximately $70,000. "At the time of deployment, it was cost-prohibitive for us to replace all existing analog cameras with IP cameras," Perrone recalls. "We needed to be able to utilize our existing infrastructure."
He knew that the school's existing Vicon analog cameras could be incorporated into a system running on the IP network using encoders. The data is digitized and can be viewed alongside IP camera images. You don't get the high resolution of the IP cameras, but the analog cameras tend to work fine in the new video management system.
Perrone developed a detailed request for proposals describing the features he wanted:
• The VMS will have a Control Center graphical user interface (GUI) that allows the user to quickly configure and apply various parameters.
• The VMS will have a Review GUI that allows users to view live video, retrieve recorded video, and export video from a workstation PC.
• The Review application will enable users to manage multiple windows and perform multiple tasks simultaneously.
• Digital zoom on live or recorded video, without requiring a video pause.
• Authentication of video to enable users to verify that video footage has not been modified since it was recorded.
• Live video windows must be consistent with video playback windows in appearance and operation.
• VMS will control pan-tilt-zoom cameras.
The configuration also had to include a storage area network to hold video for the 30-day archive period required by school policy. This requires approximately 8.25 terabytes of storage.
What followed was a marathon of six vendor presentations. "I worked closely with our manager of infrastructure and facilities, who is responsible for layer one of the campus network," recalls Perrone. He had to inspect the plans for bandwidth and configuration issues.
The second-to-last vendor presentation was by Verint Systems. According to Perrone, the public safety staff was wowed by the video quality and the ease of use of its Nextiva IP Video Management software.
To replace its former DVR platform, URI turned to system integrator Galaxy Integrated Technologies to install Verint's Nextiva software, along with Nextiva S1708e 8-channel encoders--all leveraging the university's existing infrastructure. "In my mind, if we could work with a single vendor that knows the products and had installed them successfully elsewhere, I could feel good about it," explains Perrone of the decision to outsource the implementation. "Galaxy had many major accounts."
In June 2009, URI went live with a Nextiva system that allows investigators, officers, and dispatchers to archive evidentiary video as needed. A central Communications Center can monitor all cameras 24 hours per day. Cameras were already strategically placed throughout campus, including parking lots and high-traffic areas. "The video quality is very good," Perrone says. "Our officers have presented it to suspects and gotten confessions and arrests."
So far, Perrone and URI's campus safety officers have been pleased with the system's ease of use. "With the previous system, you needed IT skills to look at video and do archiving," he says. "This product has a much friendlier user interface. The officers can easily search themselves. As a systems administrator, I have enough on my plate already without having to go through files with officers and ask them questions about what they are looking for."
Perrone believes URI is now well positioned for expansion. "I can foresee adding 10 to 15 IP cameras over a three- to five-year period, depending on funding and necessity," he says. (Galaxy recommends Axis, Arecont, Panasonic, and Verint IP cameras, he adds.) Looking ahead, Perrone says the Nextiva system could be used to provide real-time video to mobile data terminals in police vehicles.
Perrone, who was previously IT manager for the Westerly, RI, police department, had some experience with CCTV systems, but not with IP-based systems. "I have had to learn a lot more," he says. "I did my homework and it was worth it."
David Raths is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer focused on information technology. He writes regularly for several IT publications, including Healthcare Informatics and Government Technology.