HBO brings security into focus
HBO brings security into focus

Jun 1, 1998 12:00 PM

Movies televised by premium channels like HBO and Cinemax need to come across sharp, clear and colorful on the TV screens of paying customers across the nation. Likewise, so should the images appearing on the security monitors at HBO's broadcast facilities. Therefore, company officials recently decided to upgrade security technology at their uplink broadcast facility on Long Island. The center is responsible for more than 30 broadcast feeds, including those for HBO, Cinemax and emergency programming - all owned by Time Warner Entertainment. It is located on a 14-acre property in Hauppauge, N.Y., a relatively rural setting that offers the uncluttered environment necessary for sending clear broadcast signals, and for housing the huge satellite dishes behind the office building. But despite its remote location, and because of the high-profile nature of the media it controls, HBO's technology needs to be cutting edge, and its security no less than maximum, says Tom Eng, director of facilities at HBO. The former surveillance system was becoming obsolete, threatening to hobble security efforts. "We definitely wanted to increase security for the people who work here," says Eng, noting that the two-story, 60,000-square-foot building houses about 130 employees. "But we were limited by space." There had been no major instances posing immediate danger to the workers, but Eng did not want to prolong the risk by being unable to track all movements at all times, he says. As with most facilities, security at HBO is focused on the front desk, which is manned 24 hours a day - three guards by day, and three at night. Security guards are not full-time HBO employees, but are contracted through Wells Fargo, according to Eng. The facility uses a Wiegand card access control system. The former CCTV surveillance system relied on about 14 black-and-white Silent Witness bubble cameras, the alarm system and motion sensors to activate various recording cameras at different intervals. However, says Eng, "If we ever had to call back footage and look at it, we wouldn't get a continuous flow of what happened," Eng says. "The technology was old." Other than the buildings' points of entry, the main areas guards want to keep their eyes on are the parking lot and the loading docks. "We make sure we have our parking lot monitored in case there's a problem, to follow people out to their cars safely and to keep security by watching people on the loading docks and all exits," Eng says. To get the kind of constant surveillance Eng felt the guards needed to properly monitor the entire facility, HBO would have had to use two multiplexers - and double the rest of the current equipment - causing further crowding in an already tight space. But with the installation of a new Montage Plus multiplexer from Vision Factory, Fairfax, Va., cameras can hook in with existing ones in a modular fashion; HBO's problem was solved. Vision Factory has operated in Surrey, England, since 1994 and began U.S. operations just over a year ago.

The "two for one" solution The 32-channel duplex color system HBO chose can record all 32 channels simultaneously, which equals the capacity of two ordinary multiplexers, says Eng. With the addition of 16 Silent Witness cameras, all color, the HBO facility now has 28 cameras recording from smoked domes in the drop ceilings at the entries, exits, lobby and corridors. Two other cameras - one a new Toshiba scanner - pan the parking lot and surrounding property. And all cameras record 24 hours a day on two Toshiba real-time VCRs. The VCRs feature an automatic time/date search with a knob users can turn right or left to access the right time and date. "If you know an incident happened on a particular date and time, you could input the information and it will automatically find it," Ferrari says. "When you review a tape, you know what you're looking at." Eng adds, "With Montage, we can mix and match the equipment. We are able to enhance our security and retain the old hardware. And instead of buying two multiplexers, we just bought one." Ron Lapsley, sales manager for North America for the Vision Factory, says the company's engineers come primarily from the broadcast industry; the pictorial quality of the multiplexer is enhanced by 30 percent higher resolution than the company's competitors, says Lapsley. The Montage system also enables users to customize their screens with "one-touch multiscreen display keys." For instance, using the keyboard menu, they can put three screens on top, two on the bottom, or whatever configuration seems logical for that time (or the particular guard). The HBO building has secretaries at the east and west ends, Eng adds, and cameras are set up to view their areas and all building exits. Therefore, guards can view a screen for each exit, as well as the secretaries' desks, simultaneously. The keyboard buttons act as macros to switch configurations quickly. "There's a lot of versatility," Eng says. "I can look at as many as 25 camera locations at once. Of course, the pictures would be tiny, but it's like having a pictorial directory. You can label each one, and the color livens up the image a bit." In a common scenario, a visitor presses a buzzer at the front or back door, and a guard with a keyboard - which hooks into the multiplexer by remote - accesses the camera view from that door instantly on the 20-inch, color Panasonic monitor. The monitor is tilted at a comfortable angle in a new sunken console. Using this system, the operator at the control desk can follow a person to his car with a clear, continuous path of camera surveillance, says Bruce Ferrari, sales manager for Long Island Locksmith and Alarm Company Inc., which performed the installation. "They have a new, high-resolution Toshiba color camera that is dynamite at night. You can see anything that goes on in the parking lot and the antenna field. They've added more light at night, so they get an excellent color picture. "Eventually what they are going to do is change the old black-and-whites to color," Ferrari adds, noting that this will include the black-and-white scanner outside, and that eventually infrared will probably be the security tool of choice outdoors.

Maximum security for little money According to Ferrari, the wiring of the new security components posed the biggest challenge for installers last January, because cables had to be run from each new camera to the security closet, where the multiplexer and a 20-inch monitor are kept locked away with a power supply. "The dropped ceiling is also where you have to run wires for power," Ferrari notes, so the installers had to find ways to negotiate new paths in order to integrate old with new. The installation took about a month. A courtesy upgrade was performed in May. The entire installation project cost under $30,000, Eng notes, which is especially economical considering the package included a new multiplexer, 16 color cameras, two VCRs and two color monitors. Moreover, Lapsley adds, the multiplexer system allows companies to add cameras in modules of eight. If HBO were to decide to invest in another eight cameras, the new multiplexer would still offer space for them and many more. You can buy an eight-camera input card for the expansion, "like adding memory to a computer," he says. "And it's field-serviceable and upgradeable. You might blow an eight-camera module, but the entire system won't be down for 24 hours." The multiplexers can potentially accommodate hundreds of cameras, Lapsley says. The new integrated system more powerfully deters crime - and supplies superior visual evidence when necessary - for the high-profile broadcast center. All new equipment is year-2000 compliant. In short, Eng says, "It's 24-hour maximum security without spending a lot of money."

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