King County finds remote surveillance practical, affordable
King County finds remote surveillance practical, affordable

Apr 1, 1998 12:00 PM
Michael Fickes

Adjacent to a Seattle parking lot stands a 25,000-square-foot, three-story warehouse called the Jameson Building, which stores spare parts for King County pumping stations. The value of the inventory housed there ranges from $500,000 to $1 million, depending on the time of year.

The warehouse has never experienced theft; the parking lot has not been so fortunate.

Owned by King County and operated by the county maintenance and construction division, the parking lot is 15 miles from the division's headquarters in the County Courthouse. Last year, thieves cut through its perimeter chain-link fence and broke into vehicles three times. Losses totaled approximately $100,000.

When county officials decided to purchase a remote surveillance system to protect the parking lot, they decided to include the warehouse in their plans as well.

Donald Oliver, chief of security for the King County facilities maintenance division, asked the county's security consultant, Ken Thomasson, to supervise the design, installation and management of the system.

"Video surveillance is the most effective and economical way to verify whether there has been an intrusion or whether there is a fire," Thomasson says. "For widespread locations requiring remote surveillance systems, the most economical approach to transmission is phone lines. Cabling and fiber optics, which provide better images and faster transmissions, are cost-prohibitive."

Thomasson looked into several remote systems using phone lines and chose a Patriot 2000 Series system from Shepherd Surveillance Solutions, Manchester, N.H.

"Remote surveillance systems that use phone lines to transmit video have been around for quite a while," says Wayne Charron, technical support manager for Shepherd. "What has made these systems take off in recent years is improving modem bandwidths.

"Earlier systems used 14.4 kilobaud per second (kbps) modems, which could only transmit a single frame of video every minute or so. At that rate, you can't really get a sense of what's going on at the surveillance site."

According to Charron, 28.8 kbps modems will transmit five to seven video frames per second. Today's fastest modems operate at 56 kbps and can transmit about 10 frames per second. These systems can also operate across ISDN lines, which provide speeds of 128 kbps - enough to carry about 15 video frames per second.

"When you get up to ISDN speeds, you get a pretty good image that isn't too jumpy," Charron explains.

Thomasson chose to set up the King County system using a 28.8 kbps modem. "At that speed, the system transmits images with what seems like no more than a 1.5-second delay," Thomasson says.

In designing the system, Thomasson purchased three cameras from Silent Witness Enterprises Ltd., Surrey, British Columbia. To cover the parking lot, he selected a model V-27 camera, which comes inside a pan/tilt/zoom mini-dome. He placed two model V-60 cameras inside the building - one to cover the entryway and the other to monitor the storage area. He also installed intrusion and fire alarms as well as motion and glass-break detectors throughout the Jameson Building. When activated, the alarms and detectors trigger strobe lights and sirens in the building.

A Gyyr time-lapse video cassette recorder operates on-site, recording all three cameras. When an alarm goes off, the VCR switches to the camera nearest the alarm location and begins to record in real time.

A Windows 95 desktop computer inside the Jameson Building accepts inputs from all the alarms and video cameras. The computer has a built-in modem, which transmits the information over two dedicated phone lines: one line sends video, and the other sends alarm signals.

"This system is on-line 24 hours a day, which is new for Shepherd," says Thomasson. "Their systems are usually set up to dial-in an alarm. We conducted a test and found that the units are capable of remaining on-line all the time."

At the security station in the courthouse, 15 miles from the Jameson Building, another Windows 95 desktop with a built-in modem serves as the system receiver. This computer feeds an alarm console, a backup Gyyr VCR and three Sony monitors playing video from the three cameras at the Jameson Building.

Alarm signals from the remote site feed into a Silent Knight alarm system, which provides both LED readouts and hard copy printouts of the time and location of triggered alarms.

Shepherd software running in the Windows 95 environment controls the entire system, including alarms and video. Officers staff the security station 24 hours a day and respond to alarms by first checking the monitors and operating the pan/tilt/zoom camera in the parking lot. If everything is fine, the officer can reset the system from the console. If there is a problem, the officer will call the police or fire department to investigate.

The courthouse security station houses 11 additional Sony monitors displaying video from hardwired Burle cameras located in each of the courtrooms and at each of the building's entrances. Walk-through metal detectors and x-ray conveyors also provide security at the entrances, according to Thomasson.

Although the remote system at the Jameson Building and parking facility cannot transmit video as quickly as the hard-wired system in the courthouse, the Shepherd system has proven effective.

"We've had no losses since installing the system," says Thomasson.

In fact, he is so satisfied with the remote system's performance, he has decided to experiment with a wireless video transmission system at the Jameson facility, and to install a much larger version of the remote system at the Department of Youth Services across town.

The wireless experiment will be conducted at a parking facility down the block from the Jameson Building. Four cameras - yet to be specified - will be installed around the perimeter of the lot. Each camera will send video through a cable to an antenna located on the roof of the facility. Another antenna located at the Jameson Building will connect to the Patriot 2000 transmitter located there.

The surveillance system for the Department of Youth Services, located about 1.5 miles from the courthouse, is still in the planning stages. Thomasson intends to use a remote Patriot 2000 configuration to transmit signals from 50 or more pan/tilt/zoom cameras and a large number of intrusion alarms, motion detectors, glass-break detectors and duress stations for the judges, bailiffs and clerks.

The basic Patriot 2000 system can handle video from up to 32 cameras, so the installation will require two transmitters and two receivers - one of each at the site and the base security station.

Microphones placed near the cameras will add audio to the remote surveillance capabilities available to the Department of Youth Services.

"Patriot 2000 can handle video, audio and alarm systems," Thomasson says. "By adding audio to the mix, we will be able to get a more complete understanding of the nature of problems that may come up.

"We're also developing plans to add Shepherd systems to a number of other King County facilities," he adds.

The cost of remote video surveillance systems varies according to the numbers of cameras and alarms required to secure a site. According to Thomasson, Shepherd's remote surveillance technology helps to keep costs down. He estimates that the completed Patriot 2000 system in the Jameson Building cost between $20,000 and $30,000 installed.

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