Boca Raton adds smarts to surveillance network

The Florida city is building out a city-wide digital video surveillance system and is using a management system to integrate feeds so police can get real-time views of the city.

When the third presidential debate was held in Boca Raton, Fla., city police were able to bring together video feeds from three surveillance systems to a single location, giving them a better view of what was going on across the community.

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Video surveillance: Keep it simple

The Boca Raton Police Department decided the expense of operating a physical security information management system in-house was worth it. Read more.

"It's not like a Super Bowl," which draws tens of thousands of spectators, reporters and on-site TV operations centers, said James Burke, the police department’s director of support services. But with 3,000 reporters and the Secret Service in town, the added visibility eased the task of coordinating security for the Oct. 22 debate.

The system, which remains a work in progress, is the result of a four-year-old initiative to tie together disparate video systems from different departments, including police, parks and traffic cameras, for the use of police analysts.

"We're trying to build a physical security information management component into our communications center," Burke said. To achieve this, the department in mid-2012 implemented the VidSys PSIM platform and began bringing in video systems.

The VidSys system was chosen for its ability to integrate a variety of systems into a single point immediately, as well as for its analytical features and ability to handle other forms of physical security data.

Full use of the system probably is another two years off, when the new communications system now being designed goes into operation.

"Right now it is reactive," he said of the department's use of the system. "And at this point it's strictly video." But plans call for eventually adding other information, such as intrusion alarms and data from gate access systems, and to begin using feeds for situational awareness and real-time analysis rather than solely as investigative tools after an incident has occurred.

The VidSys system addresses a growing market for management of the increasing volumes of data being generated as physical security goes online, be it from video surveillance, alarm and access control systems, chemical and biological sensors, radar and vehicle tracking systems.

"It can include any of the subsystems used by a city or agency," said VidSys CTO James Chong. The systems already in place usually are silo installations, often using proprietary protocols with no provisions for interoperability, which limits their use. To bring this data together, VidSys is agnostic to the type of data, communications protocols and hardware being used.

"We have the ability, through a software development kit to allow multiple departments' systems to talk to a common standard in the PSIM platform," Chong said.

PSIM is a younger sibling of security information management tools developed to bring some meaning to the growing volume of data being generated by IT security systems. Physical security traditionally has been a separate domain from information security, but as physical security systems began moving online to deliver and store data using IT systems to manage this data, and maybe even merge it with IT security data, became a viable option.

"It is a fairly new technology," not as mature as SIM, Chong said. But because the concept of information management through IT no longer is new, it is being adopted more quickly than SIM was in its earlier stages, he said. Some of that adoption has come from the demands of large events, such as the NCAA 2012 final four in men's basketball in Houston and the Baltimore Grand Prix.

"The event management piece is a growing part of our business," Chong said. "Some of the driver has been the sense of urgency when you have these events."

But more often, adoption is driven by the need for continuing visibility rather than managing a single event, such as in Boca Raton. Although combined video feeds were part of planning for the presidential debate, the decision to implement it was made well before the debate was scheduled.

VidSys' PSIM platform is Web based, residing on an application server in the user's network. Feeds coming into the server are translated to a common standard and filtering and correlation engines can analyze the data based on policies set by the customer.

Setting up policies for analysis can take several weeks, Chong said. "That's a collaborative process. It rarely starts from scratch." Most customers already have policies and procedures for handling security information, and these form the basis for PSIM policy. VidSys also has templates and policy libraries to help with development.

Policy development is not yet an issue for Boca Raton, where VidSys is being used simply to provide a common view for video feeds and not yet for analysis. But that common view is becoming increasingly important as the city in 2011 launched a citywide surveillance system with up to 200 cameras to monitor streets, parks and public buildings in the initial phase. Later expansion could include plans to partner with private business to bring their cameras into the system. The city is providing $538,000 to cover the cost of installation, and has a $700,000 Justice Department grant for construction of a new communications center and build-out of a wireless system carry video signals.

Burke said the city already had a robust fiber ring used to backhaul video. "When the fiber wasn't available, we're using a wireless mesh network to bring it onto the fiber as soon as possible."

The new communications center is expected to be operational in about two years, and is being designed to use the comprehensive video feed. A planned video wall will give real time views of the city, and will be used by dispatchers as well as crime analysts who are being trained to use the new system.

"It's an evolving process," Burke said the PSIM platform. Without additional data feeds and use of the analytics capabilities, the system has made the city's surveillance resources more valuable by integrating and making them more available to the police department. "We are happy with our purchase, even without all of the bells and whistles," he said.

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