Big Blue Eyes Are Watching You

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Video surveillance has changed the way the city of Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC) responds to emergencies. Since kicking off Operation Virtual Shield several years ago, the city has installed 500 video surveillance cameras and integrated them with an additional 4,000 public sector cameras that provide eyes and ears across the city.

With a growing demand for security around the world, business research and consulting firm Frost & Sullivan reports that there has been a surge in network video surveillance and adoption of integrated and wireless security systems. The city of Chicago is leading the way by demonstrating how security technology can improve emergency response times and security in the public sector. The ability to record, store and analyze data is helping investigators and surveillance specialists catch and prosecute criminals.

Working in conjunction with IBM (NYSE: IBM), OEMC is in the middle of a multi-phase project that is considered one of the most advanced citywide intelligent security deployments to date. OEMC manages and operates the city’s public safety communications systems that coordinate the response of police, fire and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) resources to 911 calls.

Big Storage Needs

Several years in the making, Operation Virtual Shield’s first considerations were network security protocols, policy procedures and worries about “Big Brother,” which created a need for a transparent solution, according to Aric Roush, director of information services at OEMC.

Envisioning a robust video surveillance network, the initial RFP included requirements for camera equipment, back-end video storage and retrieval, integration with private sector cameras, and the build-out of a secure network infrastructure.

The first two phases included implementing the fiber network and cameras.

With business partner IBM, OEMC rolled out 500 surveillance cameras from Pelco and about 30 miles of a dual fiber network from Cisco Systems (NASDAQ: CSCO), with two overlapping rings — one running on the North Side of the city, the other running on the South Side. The network also integrates into the city’s existing 200-mile fiber network.

The project includes 56 terabytes of storage for each of the city’s two data centers, one primary and one hot backup facility, located four miles apart. Each rack in the IBM SAN contains a DS4800 SAN controller and about 10 EXP710 storage enclosures. There are a total of eight racks, four at the primary site and four at the backup location.

Thirty days of video at 30 frames per second (FPS) are stored online. Data is sent simultaneously to both sites.

Adding Analytics and Intelligence

OEMC is currently in the third phase of Operation Virtual Shield, which includes extending the network along the city’s lakefront and non-central business district locations. It also includes work in video analytics that adds intelligence to what’s being viewed on the video surveillance cameras.

Video analytics will be tied together with OEMC’s real-time computer-aided dispatch, which now relies less on the information 911 is given and more on what the dispatch officer watching the real-time surveillance cameras can see.

So, for example, if a 911 call comes in and a camera is within 250 feet of the incident, a dispatch officer can pan and zoom in on what’s going on. “This is the best way to leverage the camera investment,” said Roush.

The third phase is expected to conclude this spring, and OEMC is beginning the fourth phase, which is the long-term maintenance and lifecycle of equipment and cameras.

Then, according to Roush, depending upon the availability of funds, a fifth phase could begin, archival and retrieval and the building of a third data center for disaster recovery and business continuity.

Long-Term Archiving

Today, requests for data arrive at the rate of one to two a day, primarily from police investigators and insurance companies. “It takes one person to manage the requests,” said Roush. OEMC wrote an application to manage the requests and letters.

Requested video is retrieved from the database stores and downloaded to a PC, where it’s burned to a DVD. Video clips are then flagged for archiving.

“Today, the archive is stored on another file system, but going down the road we’re looking at a third SAN for archival purposes. We have to keep the video until the courts say we can throw it away,” said Roush.

As Operation Virtual Shield continues to evolve, OEMC would like to tie together voice, data and video for archival and retrieval purposes.

So far, there’s been no negative effect on the storage or network for the video surveillance system as investigators retrieve stored clips. “It there’s a theoretical limit as to how much activity there has to be to impact the storage or network, we don’t know,” said Roush. But so far there seems to be plenty of room for growth.

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Lynn Haber
Lynn Haber
Lynn works as an editor-at-large meeting with new and established channel partners in the IT and telecommunications ecosphere. She works to understand what motivates partners, vendors, and distributors as they navigate growth in a dynamic industry. Lynn has worked as a business and technology writer for magazines, journals, and online media, and has authored hundreds of articles on technology, communications, business management, employment and careers, industry, and products.

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