STE Security Innovation Awards Bronze Medal: Busting the Bandwidth Bind [Security Technology Executive]
(Security Technology Executive Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) The LAPD overcomes technical issues with streaming video surveillance for investigations and large-scale events
With nearly four million residents and a steady stream of tourists to protect, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) faces countless security challenges on any given day. The LAPDs Major Crimes Division, Technical Support Unit (Tech Squad) is tasked with a myriad of duties, ranging from providing situational awareness video for major events like the Emmys, Grammys and Lakers and Kings victory parades, to gathering intelligence for classified investigations and securing city- wide protests.
With L.A. hosting some of the entertainment and sports industries' most high-profile events, the Unit plays an integral role in ensuring the safety of those involved by providing situational awareness through video. The Unit may also be asked to provide video at a moment's notice on criminal cases involving homicides or other exigent matters.
We encounter many unique challenges and rely heavily on IP video surveillance running on a wireless mesh network to protect the people, our officers and the city of L.A.
The Counter Terrorism and Special Operations Bureau previously used an analog system, which was cumbersome and limiting. Investigators wanted IP video, which would enable them to view video at their desks over the network rather than sit in a car with a microwave receiver. And of course, the video would be in high-definition. Fortunately, IP video quality, reliability and functionality were met when we selected cameras from Axis Communications. The Tech Squad has deployed IP cameras from Axis for use throughout the city, including PTZ functionality and fixed video for covert applications.
With this system, personnel resources are not expended on determining situational awareness, but can focus instead on the direct mission. Video can also be used in place of live officers to gather intelligence in overt or dangerous situations.
Managing Cellular Bandwidth
In 2009 and 2010, the Unit attempted to provide situational awareness video powered over existing cellular networks for the Los Angeles Lakers NBA championship victory parade. In 2009, we found that the hundreds of thousands of spectators who jammed the parade route were also jamming the cellular network. The cameras installed along the route were slowed to a frame rate that was akin to watching grass grow, making the feeds basically useless. A new way to circumvent this problem was needed for the good of the city and our officers. In early 2009, two Tech Squad members attended a course sponsored by the U.S. Navy's Special Operations Command, where they saw some of the latest technologies in surveillance and communications. One of those technologies was a system of IP radios that establishes a mesh network to stream data over a singular, independent system.
Special Ops Command endorsed this particular system, made by Cobham of the U.K., as the most dependable it had tested. When the Tech Squad members returned from the training, they immediately pushed the acquisition of the system, but were met with multiple roadblocks: the most sizable being a cost of more than $1 50,000.
Additional means of circumventing the bandwidth issue of the cellular network were explored, such as acquiring new HDTV-quality PTZ cameras in the hope that the H.264 compression technology would reduce the strain on the cellular network by requiring less bandwidth. We found that the cameras alone were not enough to overcome the cellular network clutter at larger events.
We attempted to find funding for the Cobham equipment through grants and donations. At the 2010 Academy Awards, Cobham provided demo equipment for the mesh network, which was installed in the Hollywood area. Results with the Axis cameras were excellent and cemented the need for this equipment.
Our supervisors began the process of applying for grant monies from the Department of Homeland Security. In spring of 2010, the Unit finally landed the grants for the equipment, thanks in large part to the Academy Awards success and the need to supply quality video in similar large-scale situations.
That summer, the Los Angeles Lakers again won the NBA Championship and a victory parade was organized. We were asked to provide cameras based on the same ineffective cellular system from 2009 and knew that failure would be imminent; nevertheless, several cameras were installed along the parade route, and they worked well leading up to the parade; however, as anticipated, the cameras could only deliver a frame or two of video every 30 seconds on parade day because of the choked cellular network.
Command Post staff demanded to know the problems. After explaining, we quickly gained departmental support for the acquisition of the mesh networking equipment, as everyone was desperate for a dependable solution for these events.
Even after receiving approval, the convoluted process through which grant money is spent almost caused us to lose our acquisition of the radio gear. Luckily, our supervision was in close contact with Cobham and others and our luck held. A local Cobham vendor, Special Services Group, was instrumental in expediting the process, and the equipment was shipped in March 201 1.
The IP radios were put to work immediately alongside the 72Op and 108Op AXIS P5534-E and Q6035-E PTZ Dome Network Cameras. Six of the 10 IP radios were mounted in powered L-Com NEM-rated weatherproof enclosures along with the cameras. After learning the system, I was able to set up the network quickly with good results.
Testing & Proving the System
Our first deployment of the meshbased surveillance system was for the 2011 May Day rallies, which called for immigration reform and workers' rights. The cameras were installed in the downtown area close to our headquarters, and everything worked well with close physical distances between radios.
Later that summer, we deployed the system for the visit of the Royal Couple, Prince William and Kate Middleton, and had some serious distance to cover without line of sight from the camera/radio locations back to our command post. The Tech Squad decided to mount one of the radios on the roof of the U.S. Bank Tower (the tallest building west of the Mississippi River) to serve as a relay or hop site between the cameras/radios at the venues and the command post. U.S. Bank Tower officials gave us the green light and their support is still integral to the program.
I personally took an IP radio, powered it in my car and drove to Signal Hill, Calif. - about 20 miles west of downtown - with good line of sight to the tower. I was able to acquire the network and the cameras at that distance.
Since then, we have deployed the system at numerous events with positive results - including the visit of the Chinese Vice President, May Day 2012, the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2012 and subsequent L. A. Kings victory parade.
The system was also used to cover the perimeter of the Occupy L.A. encampment. As the protest began to wind down, one of the cameras captured a truck dropping off 30 to 40 sticks which could be used as long clubs. Based on the video, several officers were dispatched and retrieved the majority of the sticks before they could be used as weapons.
Perfecting a Futuristic System
We have stretched the range and tried several experiments with the radios/cameras. Each time, Axis and Cobham have both been supportive and willing to assist at any and all hours. Steve Smith, regional sales manager from Axis, and Joseph Bonafede of Cobham have been hfesavers, providing equipment and dedicated support in the deployment of the system.
Specifically, in April 2012, as the Unit prepared for May Day, two of the Axis cameras 'burned out' due to installation mistakes in wet weather. We contacted Smith and within two hours he provided replacement cameras that worked flawlessly. Bonafede also assisted us numerous times with telephone and personal technical support despite being on the east coast.
As the Tech Squad moves into 2013, the acquisition of more powerful, later-generation Cobham radio equipment is in the works. A stronger, dedicated "Infrastructure Radio" will be purchased to relay video more effectively from the cameras/ radios to the command post at future events and viewed using the Axis Camera Station software. In addition, the IP radios have made it possible to inject an internet backhaul into the system to provide remote access to the camera system.
Using portable Cradlepoint routing technology, it has been possible to introduce Sprint and Verizon Broadband data cards (USB Modems) with 4G technology into the system at any given point. The router/modem simply plugs into the network via RJ45 connection and is mounted in the same weatherproof enclosure. Remote access over 4G LTE is a snap and increases the flexibility of the system.
In just three years, the Tech Squad has gone from microwave receivers in cars to a quickly déployable wireless video surveillance system. Before, the Tech Squad provided slow and unreliable video from one or two cellular-equipped cameras and was unable to contribute much - oftentimes we were placed at a corner table with a single laptop. Now, the unit's video is center stage, projected on multiple big screens at command posts with staff relying heavily on the feeds for real-time situational awareness, crowd management and decision making.
Despite all our success, the LAPD is still under large budgetary constraints, and we are regularly tasked with fabricating support equipment, developing new systems entirely on our own. For example, the mounting systems for all the equipment mentioned here were developed entirely by the Unit, including installing the IP radios in bare enclosures along with bulkhead connectors and other "in-box" mounts for data and power, as well as developing, welding and fabricating mounts.
The Tech Squad has cemented its importance and relevance with this successful implementation, and we hope to continue to grow and improve the surveillance system.
The Challenge: The LAPD's Major Crimes Division, Technical Support Unit (Tech Squad) is tasked with providing situational awareness video for major events like the Emmys, Gram my s and Lakers and Kings victory parades; gathering intelligence for classified investigations; and securing city-wide protests.
The Solution: The unit relies heavily on IP video surveillance running on an innovative wireless mesh network.
Technology & Services:
* Allen Bradley Power Supplies
* Axis Communications HD PTZ Network
Video Dome Cameras (AXIS P5534-E, AXIS Q6035-E)
* Cisco Switching Equipment
* Cobham Robust NetNodes, Phase Il Version, Cobham Surveillance (U.K.)
* Cradlepoint Mobile 4G Routers
* L-Com NEMA rated, weatherproof enclosures (14x12x7)
The U.S. Bank Tower, the tallest buildng west of the Mississippi River, is a key component of the Los Angeles mesh surveillance system.
The LAPD needed a way to monitor large-scale events, such as the recent L.A. Kings parade.
The Tech Squad mounted cameras and mesh radios atop the U.S. Bank Tower to serve as a relay site between the cameras and radios at the venues, which include the Staples I Center (top), home of the Lakers, Clippers and Kings.
When the Tech Squad was unable to stream live video at the 2009 and 2010 Los Angeles Lakers championship parades due to cellular network constraints, officials finally decided to move forward with the wirless mesh system.
Video is projected on multiple big screens at command posts, with staff relying heavily on the feeds for real-time situational awareness, crowd management and decision making.
Axis Communications: www.securityinfowatch .com/1 021 2966
Cisco Systems: www.securityinfowatch .com/1 0482443
Cobham: www.securityinfowatch .com/1 0840002
L-com: www.securityinfowatch .com/1 0841 325
Richard Cowgill has been with the Los Angeles Police Departments Technical Support Unit (Tech Squad) since 1990. The primary objective of the LAPD Major Crimes Division is the prevention of significant disruptions of public order in the City of Los Angeles. Captain Steven S. Sambar is its Commanding Officer.
(c) 2012 Cygnus Business Media
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